It’s a busy life for songwriter and farmer NATHANIEL TALBOT, who runs an organic vegetable farm and seed company on Whidbey Island, in Washington State’s Puget Sound. When not out cultivating onions on his solar-powered tractor, he’s inside cultivating songs that are rooted in the earth and American traditionalism. “Working in agriculture, while often physically and emotionally tiring, also provides the mental space and quietude for songs to be sown and nourished,” says Talbot. His fifth album, Animal, set for release September 2018 on AWAL, marks his most ambitious and personal crop of songs to date.
Raised in the wooded foothills southeast of Portland, OR, the big firs and wide farmscapes of childhood made a life-long impression on Talbot’s songwriting. “The natural setting imprinted on my sense of self, and populated my brain with the imagery and storylines that would later manifest in my songwriting.” He began learning piano at age seven, started a punk rock band at thirteen, and quickly thereafter began steeping himself in guitar-driven sounds of Kelly Joe Phelps, Elliott Smith, Bill Frisell and other Pacific Northwest heroes. Over the next 15 years, Talbot honed an approach to songwriting and storytelling, driven by his complex, yet delicate, fingerstyle guitar work, which earned him a distinct place in the northwest folk scene.
Animal is a departure from previous records both sonically and lyrically. While Here in the Fields and Swamp Rose & Honeysuckle Vine highlighted Talbot’s signature acoustic fingerpicking work and were accompanied by fiddle, mandolin and dobro, the new album goes all electric. The tunes are more groove-oriented and hooky than before, animated by a rhythm section of Nashville bassist Sam Howard, and Portland all-stars Galen Clark (organ and keys) and Chris Johnedis (drums). From the sunny, J.J. Kale-esque groove of Mind Made Up, to the eerie, hypnotic pacing of Dime by Dime, the album gracefully explores new intersections of roots, blues, and pop. Howard, who also produced the record, helped to distill the arrangements down to their core ingredients, curating a natural, live studio-broadcast vibe with the vocals front and center. Lyrically, the songs are edgier than past work, a reflection of the growing dystopia in American politics and media culture, as well as the disconnectedness of humans with the natural world. Despite the addition of the full band, and a broader, more experimental sonic palette, Animal never ventures too far from the grounding force of Talbot’s clear voice, affecting storytelling and distinctive guitar lines.
Nathaniel Talbot’s music has dirt under its fingernails, the product of decades of hard work and crafting – retuning, replanting, and retelling. The result is true American roots music that combines the soulful edge of tradition with the Pacific Northwest’s legacy of freedom and innovation.