Jimson Weed
(Nettwerk, 2004)

Nathan's sound is defined by the interwoven voices of Keri Latimer (credited as Keri McTighe on the album as it was released prior to her marriage) and Shelley Marshall. Latimer's reedy lead is nicely balanced by Marshall's fuller-throated backing vocals. There's an attention to harmony that elevates the choruses, causing them to soar above the solo vocal verses of many of the 14 songs featured on Jimson Weed.

From the very first lines of "Sunset Chaser," which opens the album, McTighe's delivery contains the requisite twang, leaving no question this is a country/bluegrass combo.

Funny, I grew up in Winnipeg, Nathan's hometown, but I don't speak that way.

Musically, the songs on Jimson Weed are a spare mix of banjo, dobro, pedal steel and acoustic guitar with an occasional accordion flourish thrown in for variety. The bass and percussion tend to be set back in the mix for large portions of a track, moving to the foreground only sporadically. This creates a subdued musical bed that allows the vocals to be the central theme on the album. Unfortunately there's a cleanness, a tightness to the recording that has a sterilizing effect. Everything is too precise. "I'm going down the highway with a suitcase full of all my bad ideas" is how the song "Bad Ideas" opens. But, clearly, we're lodged in a recording studio, not driving some beat-up car across the dusty prairie.

Some rougher edges would have helped make this a more vigorous, ebullient recording. In fact, one of the few places where a few frayed corners manage to poke through the album's quest for perfection is in the interplay of accordion and guitar on "Red River Clay," and the song benefits tremendously from the looseness of the recording. Would that the entire album had taken this slightly grittier approach.

"Red River Clay" is followed by another strong and energetic track, "Gasoline." Here it's the faster pace of the song that creates the engaging vocal imperfections that strengthen the song. A brushes-on-snare percussion line drives the song along with help from a powerful, acoustic, rhythm guitar push. The track is denser, musically, than most of the songs on Jimson Weed and really benefits from this production approach. "Home With Me" slows things down once again but keeps the album on very solid footing.

To my mind the weakest tracks on Jimson Weed are "Emilina" and "Big Galoot." The songs are light lyrically, goofy even, and the instrumentation follows suit, creating a feeling that the tracks would feel right at home on Hee Haw. Luckily the rest of the album, even less weighty tracks such as "One Spend" -- "I've got state of the art adjustable parts with an extended warranty, some peace of mind for an extra fee" -- manage to forgo comic musical ornamentation for the most part.

Jimson Weed is a promising sophomore release from this Winnipeg ensemble. And with a new Nathan album slated for release in early 2007, they should be a band to watch for.

by Gregg Thurlbeck
25 November 2006

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