Nathaniel Riley “Bird Songs”

Independent, 2023

Highly impressive debut from Colorado singer/songwriter.

Bird Songs’ is the debut album from Colorado singer/songwriter Nathaniel Riley. It is, in his own words, his “first real ‘kick on the musical door ‘ and hopefully it will open up a bit.” Well, as debuts go, this is a pretty hefty size 10 police officer’s boot at that door. Full of ebbs and flows, the album’s songs impress from the off.

Riley’s is a distinct, gravelly voice and, if that growl means the lyrics are a little indistinct at times, it matters not when the songs are so compelling. Musically, there are changes of pace, often within individual songs, lending the tracks an air of experimentation at times. Riley has engaged some impressive musicians on the album and their high-class input means those changes of pace always feel controlled; enhancing and adding depth to the songs.

The title track leads off the album and the clear influence of the banjo that features is one that is a common thread running throughout. It is such a major factor in the album that Riley actually employed two players, Charlie Rose and Steve Varney to contribute. Any notion that this has created a ‘duelling banjos’ effect should be erased without further ado. The banjos are always there, oftentimes subtly employed, occasionally to the fore, but the pitch perfect production allows them to always compliment rather than overpower that fine vocal.

Mention also of the fiddle of Bridget Law and the drums of producer Darren Garvey. When looking for a perfect example of how well all these components mesh together then ‘Another New Year’ is as good a place as any to start. Banjo, fiddle and drums in perfect harmony in this nicely up-tempo offering.

Bird Songs’ is one of those albums that impresses on first hearing and continues to grow with each listen. The fact that the album does ebb and flow in terms of tempo and style should not be equated to similar peaks and troughs in terms of quality. While there are highpoints such as ‘Red Sun’, ‘Wyatt’ and ‘I Hear Nothing’ it is equally true that there are no fillers here. Every song warrants its inclusion and offers the various players their opportunity to shine alongside Riley’s compelling vocals. This is a very impressive debut.


About Peter Churchill 165 Articles
Lover of intelligent singer-songwriters; a little bit country; a little bit folk; a little bit Americana. Devotee of the 'small is beautiful' school of thought when it comes to music venues.

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