Art and music are invariably reflective of the environment and setting in which they were created. Experienced artists know that understanding this cosmic relationship is essential to the growth and quality of their work, and Israel Nash is one example of such an artist. Nash not only acknowledges and accepts the immense influence of location, but wholly embraces and explores it. Born in Missouri, the songwriter moved to New York in 2006 where he recorded his first two offerings (New York Town, Barn Doors and Concrete Floors) before relocating to Dripping Springs, Texas in late 2011. There, amongst the vast open landscapes of Texas Hill Country, Nash would write and record his two most recent releases (Rain Plains, Silver Season) and coin the term “desert folklore” to describe his newfound direction in sound.
This past Thursday found Israel Nash and his band making their return to New York for a gig at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, bringing with them the vibe and atmosphere of the Texas hills. Looking like a longhaired 70’s rocker in a black tank top, bootcut jeans, and snakeskin boots, Nash took the stage at 9pm sharp and, with a couple long, lonesome licks from pedal steel guitarist Eric Swanson, he and his bandmates dove straight into their set. The group opened with “Rexanimarum” and quickly followed with “Mansions”, the final two cuts from 2013’s Rain Plains, which saw all five musicians adding vocal harmonies on each chorus, successfully creating a wall of psychedelic Southern rock. Just imagine what it would have sounded like if Neil Young and Pink Floyd had taken acid and cut a record together and you wouldn’t be too far off from Israel Nash’s “desert folklore”.
After a broken string sparked an impromptu set change, Nash was allowed to showcase his songwriting abilities coupled with his haunting voice on a solo version of “Parlour Song”. A timely number about violence in America in which Nash cries “sooner or later we’ll surrender our guns, but not until we’ve shot everyone”.
The somber mood was quickly lightened however when the band once again joined Nash on stage as he started in on the first few chords of their newest single “LA Lately” to cheers of approval from the audience. The show then reached its first climax of the evening with “Lavendula”, another track from Silver Season featuring heavy riffing between pedal steel and electric slide guitar played by Joey McClellan, formerly of Texas art-rock band Midlake.
And if anyone in the crowd wasn’t already feeling what Israel Nash was giving off, they certainly were after he introduced the song “The Woman at the Well” by discussing the importance of his and his bandmates move from New York to Dripping Springs. Nash spoke solemnly, recounting how “the country does things to your mind, to your soul” before kicking off the song which gives a nod to Neil Young’s influence by borrowing vocal patterns and melody from the Harvest Moon classic “From Hank to Hendrix”.
After their hour long set was complete and it was clear the audience wasn’t going anywhere fast, Nash and his group returned to the stage for a two song encore, culminating with the only cover of the evening, a stunning rendition of George Harrison’s “Isn’t it a Pity”. In the end the crowd left smiling blissfully and cheering in appreciation of Israel Nash and the auditory trip through the Texas Hill Country that he had guided us through.
Cover photo by Caroline Ruffault via Israel Nash Facebook