The modern, vital heart of country soul beats right here.
‘Topaz’ is the seventh album by Israel Nash and it firmly benchmarks a significant step in his musical evolution. It has lost none of the expansive soaring composition that characterises previous works, it ‘simply’ adds a solid soul groove right through the heart of the album that is transformational. The result is a triumphant rock-and-roll experiment, full of fat horns, gospel choruses, swagger, hope, and pain. The meaty rock foundation with touches of psychedelia and skylark folk that fans have come to love are still here, now with a soulful heft that nods to Muscle Shoals and Memphis.
Nash observes both the personal and political, with slightly more emphasis on the latter. “Music can be the space where people think––even just for a few minutes,” says Israel Nash. “The space is not about changing their lives or political views or their party ticket. It’s about creating something that prompts reflection in a moment––and those reflections have other chain reactions.”
The opening track “Dividing Lines” begins innocuously enough with a languid, sparse beat. By the end of the first verse, the vocals start picking up, the instruments keep gradually appearing and inexorably the journey into a bigger space draws you in. By the final minute, Nash is fully committed and you are enveloped in the full-blown backing vocals from “Dark Side Of The Moon”.
This switches to “Closer” which is much more reflective and personal, before launching into “Down in the Country”, a delightful combination of tight horns, backing vocals and distorting lead where swamp rock meets electro-soul. All this and the politics of rural poverty for free.
“Stay” makes little pretence to be anything other than full blown electro-soul with a guitar solo. “Canyonheart” is an instant classic, both cheesy and sentimental, a total earworm you could retain for days. “Howling Wind” feels somewhere between Shakey and Lennon. Like many songs on the album it starts off gently and just keeps on getting better and better. “Sutherland Springs” concerns the deadliest massacre in Texas’ history where twenty-six people died. These are difficult subjects which he approaches with some sensitivity, despite the difficult politics of gun law in his home state. “Pressure” is the final delight, another swamp rock and soul combo about the desperation of rural poverty.
As a reviewer, last year’s highlights were all trad. folk and bluegrass. On that basis I was totally unprepared for this gem crashing right into this years list. On the first play, a section of my brain was saying “You are loving this, stop, turn it up and just listen”. The pleasure of first hearing a great album is a rare treat and should not be wasted.
Israel Nash has successfully amalgamated cosmic country-rock with electro-soul groove. ‘Topaz’ incorporates blues guitar licks, a horn section, gospel-driven backing vocals along with snatches of Pink Floyd and many other influences into country-rock songs. This almost feels like a genre in the making. “Topaz really technically is the first album that I’ve worked on so much on my own, and it wasn’t just a single session where we brought everyone in to record at my studio,” Nash says. “This record evolved over a year, in between tours, when I would just be by myself.” For some artists the isolation of Covid has been a barrier limiting their opportunities, but not Israel Nash (the metaphysics-loving hippie). It is evident that his time and space has been well spent.