Nate Hall

A Great River

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The solo debut by U.S. Christmas guitarist/vocalist Nate Hall understandably has similar roots of Appalachian folk and 21st century metal at work, but A Great River, performed (aside from a couple of keyboard parts) by Hall himself, takes a slightly different turn nonetheless, a singular series of performances that also avoids simple repetition. The opening tracks "The Earth in One Cell" and "Dark Star" seem to set an initial tone that might maintain throughout, drawing in everything from psychedelic wooze to stirring metal solos to Hall's own at once stretched and powerful voice, a kind of up-to-date cosmic American music. But starting with "Kathleen" forward there's as much calm as storm clouds, though the darker things are clearly suggested more -- "Night Theme" and "Electric Night Theme" both have an air of stately progression and ritualistic sensibility, whether playing with acoustic guitar and banjo on the former or keyboard swoops and plugged reverb on the latter. At its most extreme, as with the Neil Young guitar-zoneout-meets-blasted-heath feeling of "Raw Chords," Hall seems to summon primal powers with complete ease; in complete contrast is the near spiritual feeling of "When the Stars Begin to Fall," Hall's steady, yearning singing voice sounding unlike anything on the album previously, another gentle twist on an album that never quite settles into one road. The title track concludes the album on a nearly serene note, soft singing against keyboards Garth Hudson could appreciate as well as guitar, but "To Wake and Dream" might be the clearest invocation of a lost past, Hall's vocals treated like a long-forgotten 78-rpm pressing even while precise, slow, and clear fingerpicking grounds the track in a different place altogether.

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