Perceptive writing lays bare emotional turmoil.
For his third release Nick County has added a sprawl of indie, pop, folk to the country and rock of his previous records. At first, these various currents are quite hard to navigate but the compass that holds true throughout is County’s songwriting.
Set to these broader musical themes are the death of his estranged father and leaving the small town where he grew up. Through pain, loss, faith, forgiveness of both self and others County expresses himself consistently lucidly to make an absorbing listen.
Nick County (Mencia) owes the vibrancy of this record to the Public Works Records collective he co-founded. Based in Miami he considers his fellow artists on the label as his best friends who subordinate musical genre to the pursuit of songwriting. This comes across strongly on this new album that more than once harks back to one of his musical heroes, Jerry Jeff Walker.
County wades straight in with ‘Jesus Is Dead’, a cross between an anthem and a prayer. A haunting intro complete with tinkling bells soars into a spine-tingling, “Jesus is dead, forever and ever amen”. County bares his soul as he wrestles with his lapsed faith. “I woke up with dark designs/ On my mind again/ Would you like to take a ride/ To the other side my friend”. Vocally County competes with a celestial orchestra but whether he finds peace remains unknown.
Not quite reaching a similar intensity ‘Daddy’s Robe’ is a vivid insight into a tragic life with intense arrangements that just hold together. ’Dreamland Hotel’ has a very Brit feel, The Kinks come to mind as County duets with his principal collaborator, Rick Moon, daring each other into oblivion. “But I’ll buy the champagne/ We can toast to your pain/ Sign your name on the line and we’ll have a good time”. It is worth mentioning that Moon along with Corey Perez jointly produced the album.
Interestingly County makes his closet contact when he drops the big rock sound and goes acoustic.The intense unrequited love of ‘Whiter Than A Ghost’ cleverly expresses range in colour, “The distance between you and me is whiter than a ghost”. Through the intimacy of these acoustic folk songs County reveals his dark hinterland. In ‘Denny’s Dream’, sounding like Paul Simon, he admits, “Dreams are dark things that live beneath your eyes”. The brisk strum suggests a form of catharsis. In a voice pinched with regret County directs the short and to the point ‘Prayer For You’ to his departed father.
In between the rock and personal acoustic County wends his way through a folky ‘O Sailor’, pop of ‘Going Back’ and gentle 1970s country rock of ‘Stormtown’. From the strata of rock to gentler acoustic ‘A Colorful Corner of Northeastern Pennsylvania’ his County’s most ambitious project so far. Throughout, his writing confirms a resounding success.