(Royal Potato Family)
The jamband scene is not a safe haven for songwriters. On the surface, fans of live music should enjoy music of all kinds, but the reality of that scene is that the top bands are performers and instrumentalists first. By nature, ten minute plus jams have to put emphasis on the instrumental side of a song over the lyrical.
The shame of this is that there are quite of few strong songwriters who are associated with the jamband world who get overlooked. Considering his strong work as a solo artist, Nathan Moore, perhaps best known for being in ThaMuseMeant, might be suffering from this effect. He's been overlooked, and he definitely deserves more recognition.
Born and raised in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Nathan Moore moved west after quitting college and ended up in Austin, Texas. There he met a group of musicians that became ThaMusuMeant after they all moved to Sante Fe, New Mexico in 1994. The band would spend the rest of 90s moving back and forth between using Austin and Sante Fe as its home base.
ThaMuseMeant was a democratic creative effort. Their quirky acoustic playing and multi-voiced songwriting made them a natural fit in amongst the fans of that scene. ThaMuseMeant was also on the early edge of the scene playing H.O.R.D.E. tour dates throughout Texas back in 1996. Featuring bands like Widespread Panic and The Black Crowes, H.O.R.D.E. served as a percursor to the jamband scene that peaked when Bonnaroo debuted a little less than a decade ago.
Moore's solo identity away from ThaMuseMeant began in earnest when the band broke up in 2000, and he made his first move back to his former hometown of Staunton, Virginia. Moore left again a couple years later forming a Sante Fe-based record label named Frogville Records. Frogville became a creative home for ThaMuseMeant, which had reunited in 2003, a side project with The Slip (another jamband favorite) called Surprise Me Mr.Davis, and Moore's own solo albums.
Working under so many different names might be exciting for an artist, but sometimes this level of prolific creativity can confuse a new audience or at least stunt its growth. Also, the marginalization of songwriting in the jamband scene played against one of Moore's greatest strengths. Luckily, this situation started to change when Moore permanently moved back to Staunton and then began to record for Royal Potato Family records in 2009, focusing this time on his solo career. When Moore released his first solo album for that label, Folk Singer, he explained his mindset:
I think there's a timeless roll [to being a folk singer]. I was wondering whether it's the same as it's always been, but ultimately it's the folk singer's roll to mark in time stories of our day, and sort of [be] a historian encapsulating pictures of the world around us, and then preserve those stories for everybody. And in terms of performance and singing, it's giving people a chance to... feel.... [Folk Singer] really is an EP, in the sense that it's an introduction, a beginning of a new relationship with a label,...
If Folk Singer served as Moore's introduction, then Dear Puppeteer becomes a full fledged arrival. The quote above shows the purpose behind Moore's latest artistic endeavor, and his fit as folk singer is a natural one. Moore possesses a full-throated voice quite reminiscent of Warren Zevon, and his writing also captures Zevon's same sense of knowing maturity and insight.
The songwriting scope and talent Moore displays on Dear Puppeteer often approaches brilliance. Moore brings an classic guitar/harmonica approach (a la Bob Dylan) to many tracks such as "Like A Cartoon", "A Little Crazy", "Train Of Thoughts", and the title track. There are also more produced tracks like "Safe To Say" and "In The Basement". The middle album arch of "I'm The Same", "The Garden", and "Hollow" builds and unites along hushed vocals and intricate acoustic guitar work.
On the second half of Dear Puppeteer, Moore displays the rare abilty to write songs that sound straight out the ancient American songbook. The gospel bluesiness of "Can't Fly To Heaven" and "When My Times Comes" are particularly strong while "Choose Thy Love" feels similarly timeless.
Special mention should be made to another Virginia musician, Bryan Elijah Smith. Smith played guitar, bass, drums, and sang background vocals as well as engineering and co-producing the record with Moore. Smith also wrote "I'm The Same", the only track here not written by Moore. These two make an excellent collaborative pair.
Nathan Moore's time in the jamband world must have given him the road-weary experiences of living life that helped him become the artist and songwriter he is today. He only needs to be discovered by a new audience, one that focuses on incredible songwriting.
Dear Puppeteer leaves little doubt that Nathan Moore can hold his own amongst the best songwriters working today.
- Jim Markel
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