Nathaniel Bellows’ road to releasing “The Old Illusions” is a long and winding one, and you can hear it throughout the album which was released last month. A poet, novelist and visual artist, Nathaniel had hidden his songs away until another artist heard them and spurred him on to record them. The old in the title, refers in many ways to the wisdom these songs have picked up over the time they’ve been cultivated.
Take the opener “Oh, Now” which showcases Bellow’s angular and raspy tones over a warm but weary guitar. It feels home made and indie fresh but there’s a subtle horn arrangement playing underneath that embellishes the song perfectly and in a surprisingly stirring way. The acoustic guitar is central to the album and “Modern Days” showcases the finger style, the bedroom recording style where you can hear movement in the room and the honesty that the melody and lyrics provide. It’s quite direct because of the way the main vocal is recorded without any production at all. However Nathaniel’s voice provides all the additional melodies and soundscapes behind the guitar and sometimes it sounds otherwordly. It draws you into the song though and is a great artistic decision.
“At Sea” adds in some flute as the track takes a more folk twist. It sounds timeless and beautiful. The flutes and guitar interplay in a way that makes the track feel fluid and the rousing chorus is a folk treat. “Reel” is more brooding like a post battle lament. Delicate and achingly well paced, this works perfectly with “Who Made It So” that uses guitar feedback to softly fade in and out behind the main melody to perfect effect while Nathaniel begs us to “leave the bloodied man be”.
“The Reason” brings in piano for the first time and female backing vocals to give the track a brighter presence. It’s the closest to a full production the album gets but it shows just how solid the whole thing is, when you don’t even realise you’ve been listening to such a minimal sound palette. “What Would You Do” is the mystical speedy track. The chord structure has a heady dizziness and that’s brought out with the backing vocals that feel part choir and part like they are channelling a space orchestra. It’s such a magical effect that when it’s paired with such a great melody, it’s an instant win – especially with great lyrics too. The album closes with “The Calm” which is a gorgeous icy track with a cautionary tale “if you wait a moment longer, then its gone”.
Unconventional low fi recording and years of finesse have worked a treat on “The Old Illusions”. There is a warm through line that channels through these songs. Nathaniel’s voice may sound like it’s recorded in a vacuum but it also gives it s a unique olden sound which when mixed with the homemade recordings gives it added depth and flavour. Folk fans – your first essential album of 2016 is here.
Recommended track: What Would You Do