This was a welcome return to Glasgow by Nathan Bell for his last date on a short UK tour, prior to him appearing at Rambling Roots Festival in Utrecht a few days later. A heavy hitter in the AUK annual readers poll (Best male artist in 2017 and runner up in 2016 and 2018), Bell is a powerful presence on stage – wise and witty, a terrific guitarist with great songs to boot. His followers on social media will know that he is no fan of the current populist tosspots in power, both here and in the States, but live there are no polemics, he pours his passion into his songs. There are some excellent wisecracks about the two blond haired blimps scattered throughout the set but in the main, he’s here to entertain.
He opened with ‘The Big Old American Dream’, a song which just about sums him up and shows why he’s been mentioned in the same breath as Springsteen and Picott as a chronicler of blue collar America. The song was originally on his 2017 album, ‘Love >Fear ( 48 Hours In Traitorland)’ and has been reprised on his latest release, ‘The Right Reverend Crow Sings New American Folk And Blues’ which is a fine nod to his formative influences. Talking about the disc, Bell relayed his blues background – primarily a failed attempt to play guitar in a blues group as he was too jazzy while failing to get a toehold in jazz as he was too bluesy. He played several songs from this mini album. ‘Rolling Blues’ allowed him to show off his finger picking skills, ‘New Cocaine Blues’ was his update on a blues tradition dedicated to the phenomenon of the Gap year while ‘Retread Cadillac (Lightnin’)’ was an out and out tribute to the late bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins.
Regarding his new alter ego, Bell explained that The Right Reverend Crow is intended to be an atheist preacher, a reaction to the bible belt he currently lives in. A tale of an employee who tried to get him to embrace the lord resulted in a welter of testifying from the stage (all done in the best possible taste) before Bell launched into what is possibly the best song on the new release, ‘The Poisonous Snake (Hallelujah)’.
Along the way, there were expertly delivered and sometimes stunning performances of songs from the back catalogue. ‘Goodbye Brushy Mountain’ with its tasteful guitar loops and effects, an incredibly powerful ‘Coal Black Mountain’ and then a grand rendition of ‘North Georgia Blues’ (a reminder that The Right Reverend Crow has inhabited Bell for some time). Two songs from another new release, a limited edition 7” single, were deftly delivered (and the singles were on sale at the merch table) as Bell carried the crowd towards the end of his set. Aside from revealing an astonishing amount of knowledge regarding UK issues (politics, television, sport) he also unveiled a new song from a forthcoming album which he wrote on the road from Aberystwyth when last here on tour. He encored with ‘Raise Your Fist’, a declaration of protest, before saying to the audience, “Let’s go out on the blues,” and launching into a tent revival like show of thanks to the soundman and promoter and then finally, the excellent folk blues of ‘We All Get Gone’. Bell goes from strength to strength each time we see him and it’s no wonder, given tonight’s performance, that he has rapidly built up an audience here in the UK and Europe.
Opening the show was a Scotsman who transplanted to Canada many moons ago. David Leask also used loops and effects to enhance his guitar playing on occasion while he proved to have a fine voice in the tradition of Scottish blues belters such as Frankie Miller. ‘Blow Over’ and ‘All My Love’ were quite engaging but it was his song, ‘Stronger In Broken Places’, inspired by a Hemingway quote, which worked best in this intimate setting.