Israel Nash Roams Freely On Spacious & Hypnotic ‘Topaz’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

The first time you hear the lush sonic beauty of Texas Hill Country singer-songwriter Israel Nash you might be moved to the kind of description this writer penned when listening to his previous effort, Lifted, much of which applies to this one, Topaz, as well.

“{Lifted} t begins with an instrumental prelude that is somewhat reminiscent of the orchestral backdrops Jack Nitzsche created for Neil Young on “Broken Arrow” and “After the Goldrush;” but that impression fades quickly. Nash’s sound is much more enormous. It’s way beyond just cinematic. It’s the kind of sonic experience you might get when falling asleep and hearing a choir, orchestra, and rock band playing in your head simultaneously in a weird dreamscape.  And like a recurring dream, the melodies, hooks, and overall sonic effect never completely leave even after the disc stops playing. These soaring, untamed, at times calm, at times intimate sounds are designed for escapism. They are supposed to swallow you up. By writing, recording and producing this album, it allowed Nash to leave his own disheartened feelings about the recent election and current divided country behind in favor of existential questions about life and the world. His goal was hippie-like – provide some peace, love and happiness to uplift the listener.”

 

Topaz is just a tad less dense as Nash not only did the production work but the engineering and mixing too. Yet he is still ruminating on our divided country and weaving some politics into his themes. “Music can be the space where people think––even just for a few minutes,” says Israel Nash. “The space is not about changing their lives or political views or their party ticket. It’s about creating something that prompts reflection in a moment––and those reflections have other chain reactions.” Nash recorded Topaz album over the course of about a year in the Quonset hut studio he built about 600 feet from his house in the Texas Hill Country. The project is full of fat horns, gospel choruses, swagger, hope, and pain. The meaty rock foundation with touches of psychedelia and skylark folk that fans have come to love are still here, now with a soulful heft that nods to Muscle Shoals and Memphis, which in one sense, makes it a bit more tangible than his previous work. Yet it remains moody and vast, cohesive and compelling.

Getting directly to what’s on his mind, he opens with “Dividing Lines” establishes the record’s overarching thematic and sonic vibes. But there’s much more here than just politics. He devotes a couple of tender ones to missing his wife and home with “Closer,” imbued by mournful harmonica and weeping pedal steel and “Stay,” which smoothly swings with a sustained groove and soaring guitar lines. Yes, there was a previous comparison to Neil Young, more in terms of overall sound than voice but some have compared the two voices as well. Nash’s can hit those nasally high notes but is more versatile and soulful, even becoming gritty on “Down in the Country.” He has a different way of phrasing too, using pauses in his vocals, much the way he creates some space in the music. “I want the vocals to feel percussive with the drums, because when that stuff goes together as an instrument, it is hypnotic. It is a trip,” Nash says. “Sometimes it’s shaving off or adding the smallest words just to turn the phrase.”

 “Southern Coasts” has a wave-like effect in the electronics, creating both a feeling of urgency and relaxation at the same time which underpins gorgeous melodies and Beach Boy sounding harmonies. Stripped-down (by Nash’s standards) “Canyonheart” is one of those anthemic songs designed for live performance with its indelible choruses. The sweeping “Indiana” and “Howling Wind” are more cinematic, conjuring up wide-open spaces and moods that range from melancholy to reassurance. It’s as if it keeps building with “Sutherland Springs,” about the worst mass shooting in Texas history, with its mysterious tones of fear and pain into “Pressure” which digs even deeper into pain and anguish. 

Nash recorded it alone, isolated during quarantine. “It’s about the Man,” he says. “I just made the story up, taking pieces of people feeling like they’re screwed over by a system that’s bigger than them, faceless, and just so different than they are. Regardless of politics, these are human problems.” It is the album’s best track, saved for last, zeroing on the almost indescribable need for empathy due to the pandemic and the difficulty of communicating in a largely remote, socially distanced and culturally divided time. 

Nash is so multi-faceted that it’s a disservice to use simple descriptions of ‘loner” or “hippie” when in fact he holds a master’s degree and is also a pragmatist who needs time in the city and the company of people. His goal for the album is to use music as an escape where one can let moods roam freely, and where he can come across as both provocative and evocative. 

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