The last time I had heard of Nathan Quick it was a passing notice that he'd captured the 2012 Houston Press Music Award for best singer-songwriter. I always meant to check out his stuff, but life got in the way. Now I regret it because if his latest six-song album is any indication, Quick is a true Houston musical treasure.
The Mile feels like so many different artists at once that it's hard to nail down a real comparison. You can hear touches of everyone from Tom Petty and Nick Cave to Blitzen Trapper and even brushes of local acts like Folk Family Revival. He's a jangling, poetic sort of dude who dances a fine line between aspirational lyrical brilliance and pure, pop-driven love-and-loss tunes.
Quick's sad but earnest voice is the bait on the hook. On opener "Pure," you could almost be listening to the ghost of a suicide victim looking back over his life. That crossroads atmosphere, as if Quick was live in limbo via Ouija board, permeates the entire record. It's a call for salvation with sincerity but without much hope.
One thing I was fairly surprised to learn that Quick has a deft touch with lead guitar on top of his unique voice. Both "Pure" and "Can't Let You Go" feature almost Skynyrd-esque flourishes that light a fire in the little Southern-rock fan in us all, but never branch out into self-indulgent solos. They're few and far between, but lend spice to the singer-songwriter mode that puts them perfectly on fire.
Oddly, one of the few hiccups on this excellent record is the title track. The sudden slowdown and more honky-tonk style is something of a misfire, interrupting the flow of the album and not really offering much in the way of a palate-cleanser. That said, it's still a hell of a good song. All the songs on The Mile are good, but placement-wise it breaks up the short-film mood and not really in a way that aids the overall opus.
What "The Mile" doesn't quite accomplish is made up for in the followup, "You Were the One." That's the spot where the Nick Cave comparison really shines through, as if it were some slightly cow-glam B-side from Let Love In. It's a very loud emptiness that pushes a listener back and makes him or her reconsider what kind of sadness you're pouring into your ears and heart.
Then there's the finale, "Love You Still." It packs just enough similarity to "Pure" to form a dead-on recurring leitmotif, but then it ramps the energy up to 11. It's also a song where Quick finally pulls out all the stops as a guitarist and leads us headlong down to the final minutes of his musical adventure. Though only six songs long, The Mile hits you like a night of heavy drinking, and is easily one of the best Houston albums of 2014 so far.
Nathan Quick plays Fitzgerald's Saturday night with BLSHS, The Beans and The Trimms.
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