Kenneth J Nash photo by Louise Down
KENNETH J NASH
[Old Hotel Records]
Whilst romantic heartbreak has long been a staple subject matter of popular music since the blues, genuine grief has been less of a selling point. ‘Death discs’ were all the rage in the 1950s and 60s, but few artists in the modern world want the focus on loss and regret as a selling point. The obvious exception has been Nick Cave, who morphed from songs of salubrious women and religious hellfire to those of tainted love and the saddening torment of losing a family member.
For East Northants troubadour Kenneth J Nash, when it came to constructing album number eight he quickly developed a strategy. As a coping mechanism for a mournful husband and wife suffering too-regular grief, he felt songs to lift his partner’s spirits would be the required tonic. He chose his muse well; this is possibly his best album yet.
A long-haired balladeer and well-respected figure on the club and festival circuit, Nash has always aimed directly for the heart with every one of his songs. Confronting the dark as often as celebrating the light, his earthy tone and gentle, uncomplicated picking is unmistakable. His unrushed, soulful folk was given a little bit of a makeover with a backing band on previous long-player Luna, which moved him into a more Americana direction. On For Sarah that has been dropped; instead it’s bare bones voice and guitar, only embellished with classical strings at certain junctures.
The stark beauty of his blossoming skills as songwriter and arranger is abundantly clear as opening track ‘Spencer Park’ warmly rolls into view. Veronika Rauchfussova plays her haunting multi-tracked violin to interweave with Nash’s story of the simple pleasure sitting in a Rushden park with your loved one. ‘She’s The One’ is the most direct song for his wife, as he acknowledges her vital role – “I know I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t saved me”. Meanwhile ‘Lady’ is the jewel in the crown; a Olde English-style folk ballad that brings in cello, double bass, trumpet, and mandolin, and has enough twists and turns to keep the listener guessing over six minutes. ‘Lady’ is crucially topped off by a heart-stopping vocal performance drenched in close-to-tears sincerity.
The album continues in this “darkness-into-light” vein, as if on a mission from some god to reiterate that central tenet of undying love. Or, as ‘And Around Again’ states, “I’m driving tonight towards the truth”. There’s touches of Cohen in the melodic flight and sardonic wit of ‘First Light’, a sweet duet with Fran Taylor on ‘Lucia and Madisone’, and a moving instrumental entitled ‘Sunflower Zen Blues’. The album finishes with the two-parter ‘Bae Ceredigion’, and it brings immediately to mind the elegance and power of ‘Distant Sky’ by the aforementioned Cave. In essence a paean to the history and natural beauty of the Welsh inlet, it is a suitably devotional and reverential in ambience to reflect all the intensity of feeling the previous tracks have collectively mustered.
Ultimately Nash’s soulful folk ruminations, paired with those gorgeous accompanying musical flourishes, frequently take his work to new emotional heights, and give For Sarah it’s natural grace. The pinnacle of an already sparkling songwriting catalogue, this is an album everyone really should hear. Your soul will thank you for it, in fact.
For Sarah is out now on CD from www.kennethjnash.com, and digitally