If you were already a fan of Cotton Jones, then you are familiar with Michael Nau’s soft, lovely voice. Part Beatles, part Nilsson, with a little smoke and the gentlest touch, Nau’s vocals are a treasure. And while he typically makes up half of the Cotton Jones duo (with his wife Whitney McGraw), his solo debut Mowing is a fine outing for Nau, showcasing his aptness for capturing the beauty of loneliness and solitude and for penning truly gorgeous folk songs.
Nothing on Mowing was done with a heavy hand, but that doesn’t make it any less polished. It is a nuanced and delicate array of twinkly keys and mellow acoustic guitars, with a hint of psychedelia. Songs like “The Glass” and “Smooth Aisles” stand out most for this. Both bring a calm trippyness with quirky, zen instrumental arrangements. This chilled out vibe is effortless for Nau, who often sounds like he’s just in the midst of a heady jam session at a yoga retreat on the California coast. “Mow”, the album’s sole instrumental-only track (which is more of an interlude) is not hard to imagine as the soundtrack for waves crashing softly against a picturesque sunset.
There’s a retro tropicalia vibe to many of the arrangements on Mowing, and it serves to transport you to some place warm and inviting as you listen. It flows into the lyrics, too, particularly on “In There”, a hypnotic ballad in which Nau sings “Listening, watching the waters go passing by me/But I do not mind…I am just looking for something to find some time/Waters before me/waters behind.” His guitar has a ukulele effect here that feels like a subtle wink.
The water imagery returns a few times on Mowing, specifically on one of the record’s most outstanding tracks “While You Stand”. This song is a pure and sweet beauty that will stick with you long after you’ve listened to it (if you can stop yourself from keeping it on a constant rotation). “I am a mountain/High as can be/Yes and I am an ocean while you/While you stand by me,” he sings, before the most magnificent humming harmony. A folk song through and through, “While You Stand” puts imagery of nature to the tune of a lullaby and lulls you into a dreamy haze. “Unwound”, another of Mowing’s standouts, is a peace song about love and light, and it brings a soulful pop sound to Nau’s usual folk sensibilities.
For those who have been missing Cotton Jones (who have not released a new album in a couple of years), Nau’s Mowing will more than suffice. It hits all of the sweet spots we have come to expect and look forward to from Nau, and will leave you feeling lighter than before.
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