Blood Like A River
for Sing Out! Magazine, June 2014
Nathan Bell’s Blood Like a River hit me hard. It is powerful stuff on through from the opener “Names” which relates in brief lives of three soldiers who now live on as names on the wall and as memories of loved ones. “Names” is so sharply written and concise that with its compelling somber melody it is one of the most stunning, harrowing songs I have heard in a long time. Worth the price of admission by itself – and only the opener.
Nathan’s songs limn a grim and unforgiving world where grit and hope guarantee nothing. I remember how shaken I felt the first time I heard the album. Frankly figuring how to write about it has been tougher than I expected even as I have come to treasure Blood Like a River, a sparse, extremely intimate album on which Nathan played and sung everything – and all in just one month.
“Really Truly” parallels three couples: the straight Mary & Jimmy, and the gay Jenny & Jill and Jack & Gary. Three couples, three rings, three love stories. A powerful song about letting love take its course unimpeded as love is too precious to waste. “Blue Kentucky Gone” is the tale of a girl who fell under the spell of Emmylou singing Loretta Lynn’s “Blue Kentucky Girl.” “Every Other Day” is a meditation on mortality and love, bleak yet oddly comforting.
Nathan Bell has been recording since the 1980s, but I only made acquaintance with his song craft on 2011’s Black Crow Blue, his first release after a 12 years break. In the notes, Elissa Wolf says Nathan told her that his lack of success hadn’t left him heartbroken and discouraged from writing … but just felt he wasn’t ready to be a writer. I guess he thought he needed more life experience to become the potent writer he sure as hell is now. With Blood Like a River he’s made an album that at once resonates timeliness and timelessness.
– Michael Tearson