Robert Christgau- October Consumer Guide
Nathan Bell: Red, White and American Blues (It Couldn’t Happen Here) (Need to Know) This Chattanooga-based 61-year-old former AT&T middle exec and son of Iowa’s first poet laureate was as unknown to me as his dad until this instant keeper came in the mail. A bunch of albums boiled down to a 46-song Spotify playlist that includes such convincers as the Rust Belt “Stamping Metal,” the Fenway “Ballad of Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee,” and the gay marriage hymn “Really Truly” will hold your attention. But from an “Angola Prison” sung by a sufferer who’ll leave that hell on his back to “Folding Money”’s “Jesus don’t like your folding money or the way you use his name,” this album is better still. Between a talky drawl less than pretty and more than articulate, an acoustic guitar worthy of an ace rhythm section, and the likes of Patty Griffin and Regina McCrary sweetening here and there, the music has so much bite that calling it Americana would be a flat-out lie. One of Griffin’s features is narrated by a .44 Magnum. Lightnin’ Hopkins never plays a note “without the money in his hand.” A whole gruesome bunch of “poor,” “sorry,” “crazy,” “dumb,” “busy,” “lazy,” “angry,” and “useless” “motherfuckers” are “high on meth and Jesus” and “running on the razor like it didn’t have an edge.” Inspirational Verse: “We are taking our lives one day at a time/With bullets and useless poetry/Soon we will be burning together in red, white, and blue/Burn, baby, burn.”
Recorded in 2019 in Capitola, California at Skunkworks Studios, delayed two years by the Pandemic, yet still relevant in every way, "Red, White and American Blues (it couldn't happen here) drops on CD and Digital today, September 11, on Needtoknow Music.
In 13 original songs, featuring guest appearances by Patty Griffin, Regina McCrary, and Aubrie Sellers, the album takes the listener on a journey, from the Dead Thumb Blues of South Texas, through Swamp Music, American Roots Rock, and West Coast Spoken Jazz Poetry to the Folk stages of London.