Nathan Bell @Celtic Connections. Oran Mor, Glasgow: 2nd February 2017

Nathan Bell , a troubadour in the tradition of Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle, was sandwiched in between two rather noisy acts for this, his Scottish debut. The fans had packed Oran Mor for the headliner James McMurtry and had been warmed up by the opening act, Alice Drinks The Kool Aid. This peculiarly named act turned out to be an old style blues trio (and yes, from Chicago) who turned in a set that reeked of student unions back in the seventies when everyone and their dog covered Cream and Taste. That may be a tad unfair as the sound system wasn’t doing them any favours but it has been a long long time since I heard a bass solo in a 12 bar workout. Their USP was the fact that guitarist and singer Tony Magee runs a brewery, Lagunitas, and he had donated a keg of his IPA to the bar offering all present free beer until the keg ran dry. So more power to his elbow then and in truth the band did offer up some fine ZZ Top styled boogie.

It was a raucous crowd then that faced Bell when he bounced onto the stage but within minutes he had them transfixed with barely a murmur to be heard, his confident delivery and wry humour demanding attention. He’d done his homework; commenting on the rapt attention of the by now well behaved audience he wondered aloud if he was in Edinburgh instead of Glasgow, a comment greeted by hoots of appreciation. There were several such bon mots delivered throughout his short set but there was a deadly seriousness contained within his songs which address the everyday struggles of the American working man. Since his return to the music scene (a Nashville contender in the eighties and then a jobbing worker for 20 odd years), Bell has released a series of albums that investigate life, work and family in the American rustbelt. His work is akin to that of Rod Picott while some have compared him to Springsteen circa Nebraska. Tonight he delivered a series of deeply affecting songs, his voice strong and his guitar playing more than accomplished as witnessed on the wonderful coda to I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love, the title song from his latest album. All You Carry and Jesus Of Gary, Indiana were powerful salutes to the fortitude of the working man while Rust, from his Black Crow Blue album was a lamentation worthy of Van Zandt himself. Another song from that album, Crow in Oklahoma, saw Bell delivering a talking blues that recalled Johnny Cash’s Native American songs with his emotive wails reminiscent of Peter Rowan’s Land Of The Navajo.

No fan of the new President Bell announced that he has put back his latest instalment of his Family Man series of releases for a guerrilla release of protest songs called Love Fear-48 Hours In Traitorland, due out soon. A song from this album he had the audience pumping their fists in the air for an anthemic call to arms. Gruff and tender with a poet’s voice and a sincere sense of justice Bell is the real deal and we await his return with fingers crossed. In the meantime he has a few shows across the UK in the next week so do yourself a favour and catch this true American troubadour. You won’t be disappointed

Author: Paul Kerr

Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.

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