Artist: Scott Nolan
Label: Baldwin County Public Records
Release Date: 02/10/2017
I was not familiar with Scott Nolan until I heard this terrific album. I gravitated toward it immediately after seeing that Nolan had the Southern collective, world class musicians and harmony singers, Willie Sugarcapps, as his backing band. Their album from last year, Paradise Right Here, was one of the year’s best. Nolan is no newcomer. He’s already recorded nine albums, one produced by Gurf Morlix, and another, like this one, featuring a co-write with Hayes Carll.
A Toronto-born, Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter, Nolan traveled 1700 miles south to Loxley, Alabama (Admiral Bean Studio), eight miles north of the town Silverhill, to meet up with Will Kimbrough (Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell), Sugarcane Jane otherwise known by Anthony Crawford (Neil Young, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Winwood) and Savana Lee, Grayson Capps and Corky Hughes to record what ended up being Nolan’s proudest work to date. According to informed sources, this collaboration was a long time in the making. The inspiration for the project came from Nolan’s performance with Mary Gauthier at The Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm, an outdoor venue and house concert series in Silverhill, Alabama, modeled after Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles. “It’s just a beautiful, wonderful thing,” says Nolan of the Frog Pond. “It reminds me of the whole point and origins of music. It’s family-friendly and community-driven.” Willie Sugarcapps was born at this venue a few years back. Coincidentally, one of the album’s most scintillating tracks is “Trouble & Love,” a co-write between Nolan and Gauthier.
Nolan laid down these tracks in two days, describing it this way,” They had no demos to prepare from…We would record each song one to three times, I’d say 80 per cent or more were first takes…There was no editing and cleaning or fixing…It was more like a photographer’s philosophy: hope for that moment and capture it. My goal was to tap into that ancient southern musical wisdom, fall into that lazy groove, and let the sessions produce themselves. In the South … The air is different. I could sing day and night, because the air felt syrupy somehow.” Nolan goes on to explain, “Indeed, there was a lot to draw inspiration from during the recording process: the down-homey vibe, the area, the music…the moonshine. It was from a woman from a neighboring farm, whose recipe was like 104 years old,” he says. “It was very organic homemade liquor… It affected the record…I was affected by a whole bunch of different things besides the moonshine. There was just a lot of history.”
The organic nature of the music, accented by the stellar picking and harmonies from Willie Sugarcapps makes for as good a singer-songwriter album as you’ll hear. Most of these are well-constructed tunes, and others like “Shake It Loose” come off as loosely assembled jams. Nolan is a great poetic lyricist though, and seems able to just naturally put his thoughts into song. There’s a passage in the title track where Nolan says, “Kimbrough cracking jokes, I think I might just stay here awhile, I’m just really fond of these folks,.” Other terrific songs include the opener, “Forever Is a Long Time,” “Fire Up,” “Curls & Curves,” and the intriguingly titled “Easter at the Waffle House.”
Silverhill’s tracks alternate between joy and sadness, never reaching desperation. Nolan’s voice is not a commanding instrument but bolstered in this company, its fragility fits the songs well and lends another layer of authenticity. He’s a songwriter’s favorite as the promotional materials echo praises from Gauthier, Morlix, Carll, and Mickey Raphael. Dig in. You’ll love the imagery, the casual nature of the proceedings, and the overall feel of this album.