Filmmaker Jesse Sheppard visited Nathan Bowles in Blacksburg last month to shoot a mini-doc, which we’ve already shared, plus four riveting solo banjo performances. Here’s the first, “Sleepy Lake Tire Swing,” the moving coda to Nathan’s new LP Nansemond, which you can buy here. The title conjures Nathan’s childhood home on the fringes of the Great Dismal Swamp in Southeastern Virginia. Get lost.
Nathan Bowles Tour Dates
Many more to come, but here are the early December dates!
12/6 – london underground pub (10am brunch show), blacksburg va
12/7 – appalshop theater (w/ kevin howard) whitesburg ky
12/8 – fox house vintage (w/ ma turner), lexington ky
12/9 – clovene (w/ ma turner), louisville ky
12/10 – nicholson cabin (w/ ma turner), manchester ky
12/11 – static age records, asheville nc
12/12 – the gravey boat (w/ snake), durham nc
12/13 – shu food @ farn house (evening show), blacksburg va
12/19 – the rotunda, philly, w/ glenn jones, chris forsyth, daniel bachman
12/20 – red onion records, d.c., w/ daniel bachman
Nansemond Press Round-Up
Many thanks to ears and pens for all the enthusiastic acclaim for this record. See below for some recent press citations–the most recent pieces appear first.
Bowles sounds like he could play forever without boring himself or anyone listening. He attacks his strings boldly and sharply, yet he continually adds small variations and minute adjustments, viewing each iteration of a chord or phrase from a slightly different angle. This subtly-evolving consistency creates an intriguing blend of comfort and tension. You can settle your ears into Bowles’ grooves, or you can lean to the edge of your seat wondering what little shift will come next. Often, you can do both at the same time… Think of this record as a musical river—a flowing body of work that’s dependably solid and rippling with variation. For Bowles, the rich potential of simple traditions is as crucial as the water that fills a stream.
– Marc Masters, Pitchfork
Nansemond is an important progression for Bowles, a confident step beyond the elementary though endearing exercises of A Bottle, A Buckeye. If A Bottle, A Buckeye was a sequence of simple snapshots, Nansemond is where Bowles chips at a clear picture until it begins to break into abstraction. Nansemond should make it harder still to call him a solo banjo player.
– Grayson Currin, Wondering Sound
Channels streams of African-American, European and Native American traditions into [an] ecstatic Appalachian clawhammer trance. Nansemond is, somehow, an entirely original and contemporary album of deeplyrooted, old-time banjo music. It’s going to take more than a few repeat listenings to try to fathom that mystery out, and this stuff is as sweetly satisfying and addictive as that old Golden Virginia.
– Ian Anderson, fRoots
Aesthetically, Nansemond is a marvel of a record. A rich narrative runs throughout Nansemond’s sprawling sonic canvas as a searching for truth and meaning serves the vital pulse to the shape-shifting compositions. The North Carolina-based label Paradise of Bachelors has delivered yet again another exceptional and utterly timeless work of art.
– Mark Carry, Fractured Air
In case you missed it, here’s Jesse Sheppard’s documentary short about Nathan and Nansemond.
Nathan Bowles is like my spirit animal. When I bought A Bottle, a Buckeye off him at a Steve Gunn show (where he pounded out some amazing organic-style drums), I took it home and put it on the turntable, and it immediately took me back to the nostalgic sound of the old time and bluegrass records my dad played perpetually as I was growing up. You know, the real shit: no irony, just beautiful, ethereal blues licks and folk licks from the banjo… Of course, he’s got the modern edge too, and the experimentalism thing down, and it sounds totally modern as well. That’s why it’s so great. It’s not too much of either: old or new, just timeless. I took a video of him playing “The Cuckoo” backstage in Montreal (complete with me drunkenly singing the lyrics behind my phone), and the clip says it all. I guess that’s why he gets first place in bluegrass competitions when he gets back home to Virginia between touring. So when I got home between touring I showed it to my dad—the true test—and it blew his mind. My dad didn’t grow up in any DIY, or punk, or indie era. He just kinda knows about the older primitive stuff, and the classic stuff, and he knows the real shit when he hears it. So I guess I’m the next generation, and I know it’s the real shit too, so… beautiful then, beautiful now. Timeless.
– Kurt Vile
4 stars. A series of wry, sad, troubled, and mesmeric compositions imbued with a spooked and grainy Appalachian potency. It’s the longer, stranger cinematic wanderings that really capture the listener: rich chaparrals of deep buzzing color you could lose yourself in forever.
– Andrew Male, MOJO
Stunning. The album wanders from bluegrass toward a highly cinematic form of prairie psychedelia. It’s as if Bowles is directing a Terrence Malick film with just a handful of strings at his disposal.
– Steven Hyden, Grantland
Nansemond evokes Bowles’ swampy Virginia homeland with nuanced picking, waterlogged drones, rowdy vocals (a first) and an inspired duel with the electric guitar of Tom Carter, from Charalambides on “Chuckatuck”. Best of all, there’s “Sleepy Lake Tire Swing”, a culmination of Bowles’ downhome and transcendent adventures, that captures the same spirit as his mentor, Jack Rose.
– John Mulvey, Uncut
Mesmerizing! “America’s Instrument” — the 5-string banjo — has found a profound new exponent in Nathan Bowles. His writing for the instrument is exploratory, at times wonderfully dissonant and always soulful; his playing sure-footed and hypnotic. One of my favorite musicians playing today.
– Glenn Jones
There’s a deep distillation of Nathan Bowles’ musical past and present on his second solo album, Nansemond: from the old-time Black Twig Pickers to the abstract drone of Spiral Joy Band to the band that sort of splits the difference, Pelt. But Bowles also carves out his own corner of this clawhammer-banjo-based music and takes a portal through time while keeping one foot in the ether. Built on a hypnotic banjo melody that drones more like a sitar than something out of Appalachia, “Chuckatuck” sounds like something recorded in a bunker and long since forgotten.
– Lars Gotrich, NPR All Songs Considered
The avant-folk underground’s favorite banjo player–yep–stretches out. The ghost of his old cohort, Jack Rose, loiters approvingly.
A banjo in the hands of Nathan Bowles can turn Appalachian hillbilly dirges into cosmic droning cinematic wonders.
– Tiny Mix Tapes