Picture a lone figure walking across the desert. Long hair flows from beneath a cowboy hat and a guitar is strapped to his back. The sun sets, casting an ominous, enchanting red glow across the landscape. Though he appears to be wandering aimlessly, there is a sense of purpose in his stride, as if he is on a quest to decipher some kind of meaning out of this time and place. This world and character comes to mind upon hearing the opening twang of the steel guitar on “Through the Door,” the main single off the new album from singer-songwriter Israel Nash, Rain Plans (Thirty Tigers). When Nash urges the listener, “Follow Me to Hill Country,” he is beckoning you to trust him on this journey through his music.
There is a vivid sense of imagery permeating through Rain Plans. Simple, textured instrumentation compliments songs about traveling through life to find whatever it is you’re looking for. But as the tired old saying goes, life is about the journey, not the destination. For Israel Nash, the journey has brought him from a childhood in various rural towns around Missouri, to the hustle and bustle of New York City, and now to Dripping Springs, a small town of less than 2,000 nestled in the Texas Hill Country just outside Austin.
“It sounds really cliché, and I think it’s a very songwriter thing to move to the country. I think [living in the country] I’ve became more confident and comfortable, like I’m not thinking about the other side or what success is, I just feel like I have more clarity. It slows things down,” says Nash.
Moving to the Texas Hill Country was, for Nash, not just about slowing down and doing a little soul searching, but also to craft his sound into what he classifies as “desert folklore.” You need not listen to more than a song or two on Rain Plans to realize that this classification is completely fitting. Between the omnipresent pedal steel guitar, flourishes of harmonica, and lush psychedelic arrangements, Rain Plans carries strong hints of Neil Young and Pink Floyd circa Meddle, yet would make the perfect soundtrack to a Western.
“I was really into Seventies folk and Neil Young CSNY stuff; Jackson Browne was a big one. I was listening to a lot of more [progressive] stuff too. I wanted these harmonies and these big sweeping vocal arrangements that I’ve been turned onto lately,” says Nash.
On songs like “Who in Time” and “Rain Plains” you can hear all of the influences seeping through. It may be cliché for a songwriter to move to the country for inspiration, but Nash also used his surroundings to craft gorgeously original soundscapes to compliment his lyrical narratives.
“I had made a bunch of really involved demos out here of what we were calling desert music. I had this idea that I told the guys in the band, that I wanted the record to sound like the Hill Country and the way it looked to me. We recorded each night by this big window and you could see the Hill Country sunset. It sounds a little romantic and it was,” says Nash.
As much as the arrangements play a role in creating the desert feel of the album, it is the deeply personal lyrics that bring it all full circle. Songs like the triumphant “Myer Canyon” and acoustically picked “Iron on the Mountain” connect Nash’s newfound approach to songwriting with the landscape around him.
“This album was very autobiographical. I think that’s a change too; I don’t want to commit myself to anything, but I feel like I jive a lot better if I just write completely reflective songs. I might not write 100 songs in a year, but I just write them when they matter,” says Nash.
Like the best kind of trips, the music of Israel Nash and specifically Rain Plans has the ability to transport you to his mystical desert landscape and linger in your mind long after you hear it. So many musicians these days have a tendency to wear their influences on their sleeve while failing to tap into their own creativity and originality. With Israel Nash there is a hybrid sensibility of fusing sounds he enjoys and lyrics he’s passionate about with an environment he is infatuated with. The result is that lone figure wandering across the desert at sunset. You’re not sure why, but you get the feeling he can take you somewhere, and whether in music or life, the journey is indeed a hell of a lot more fun than the destination.