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Nat Baldwin - Lights Out

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Artist: Nat Baldwin

Album: Lights Out

Label: Broken Sparrow

Review date: Jan. 19, 2006

When singer-songwriters trek across the country playing music, they create sister cities. One fellow shows up in Ann Arbor from Portland to play a house show, and soon there are so many PDX folks stopping by that Michigan and Oregon might as well share a border. Nat Baldwin, a New Hampshire denizen who sings and plays upright bass, spends so much time on the road that he has become a metaphysical link between nearly every mid-sized, granola-eating town in the country. If you live in this type of place, chances are someone you know has seen him recently. He blows into town for a day or a few, plays beautiful songs in your living room and then disappears for a few months. He’s sure to return when the seasons change.

Now, Broken Sparrow has released an EP version of Lights Out, formerly a self-released CD-R full-length. Baldwin’s songs have been re-assembled from his original recordings and some tracks have been culled. This is his second grouping of what he called “songs”; previously, before getting tired of the avant-garde, he released the experimental Solo Contrabass and played with greats such as Anthony Braxton.

Lights Out features occasional backup vocals, but mostly Nat’s voice is alone, accompanied by multiple layers of bass that take the place of all the typical instruments of a rock band. For percussion, he taps the back of the bow against the strings; for rhythm guitar, he plays pizzicato or marcato; in the place of shredding guitar solos, he plays soaring melodies that fall in and out of unison with his voice. Most often, Baldwin simply plays repeating sixteenth notes, sometimes one by one and otherwise in octaves or chords.

New to the song idiom, Baldwin sings tentatively and often in falsetto. His voice quavers; he seems so nearby, naked and vulnerable. While he sings words, they are remembered as syllables and moans so that his voice, while in a register distant from the bass, resembles it in range and emotion. The effect is strange, awkwardly beautiful and unlovely, uncomfortably personal.

The opening track, “Wake up it’s Time to Rise” should endure as one of those perfect two-and-a-half minutes of perfection. It’s the most “pop” piece on the record and it is gorgeous, even drowned in reverbed backing vocals. The cuts following it are more bass heavy and unconventional. “Lights Out” contains pizzicato flourishes that one longs to hear repeated. When the hopscotch bow-tapping and lilting singsong of “Only in my Dreams” dies out and the EP is over, 23 minutes feels far too short.

By Josie Clowney

Other Reviews of Nat Baldwin

Solo Contrabass

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Find out more about Broken Sparrow

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