The Nautical Theme - Float - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Nautical Theme - Float

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2018-04-20
The Nautical Theme - Float
The Nautical Theme - Float

Float is an excellent folk album. There’s really nothing alt-country here. Rather, Nautical Theme plays its hand with rather vibrant vocals of Matt Shetler and Tesia Mallory, trading constant lead duties as they sing in harmony or banter verses within a song.  Matt’s guitar and Tesia’s piano propel the tunes. And there’s a strange telepathy between the two, with a rhythmic guitar balanced against the melodic keyboards.

Two reference points:

First, Matt’s vocals pleasantly recall those of a Mid-West folk festival favorite, Brother, the Aussie band with the bagpipes and the didgeridoo. Although Brother is a bit rockier than NT, both bands share the same love for harmonious vocal lines.

Of course, the second is the obvious comparison with The Civil Wars, what with male/female vocals and strong songwriting. And while the two groups do touch common ground, such as the absolutely beautiful acoustic break in “Stay the Same” when Tesia’s high tender vocal touches the same universal heartbeat pulse as Joy Williams managed on that first Civil Wars record, there is a difference: John Paul and Joy made very intricate gothic folk music that hid its beauty in dark corners of deep emotion. And those were, indeed, lovely dark corners. Nautical Theme, in contrast, hide nothing at all, as their folk music simply soars into the wild-open spaces of that very same deep emotion. And yes, they are, indeed, equally lovely wide-open spaces.

It's fair to suggest any fan of The Civil Wars’ first record will like this album.

By the way, ultimately everything in the universe always comes down to measurement of William Carlos Williams’ somewhat famous poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow.” You know, the one that simply states (with poetic spacing omitted), “So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.”

As my friend, Kilda Defnut, likes to say, “Anything is only the anything of its own anything.”

So, this is a folk album, and so much depends on the songs and the playing of those songs, which may or may not be next to a few white chickens.

And every tune is, indeed, wheelbarrow red and rain water glazed. The intro to “Couldn’t Have Said,” has a distant echo of the acoustic guitar of Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson.” But the piano-guitar and dual vocals quickly create the template for Nautical Theme’s ethos. This is, as stated, wild open harmony folk music.

There is more of the same. “One Long Day and Night” is urgent piano, vocal, guitar, and string section stuff. “Have a Little Fun” is almost gospel, and the vocal interplay is beautiful. This is folk music caught in an immediate moment. “Sinking Fast” gets bluesy but certainly doesn’t change the blueprint. It deepens the dirt around the roots of the record.

As stated, “Stay the Same” enters an obit of bliss. About two minutes or so into the tune, an acoustic guitar quietly frames Tesia’s sublime vocal as she sings, “Because what you don’t know what you don’t know and the unknown keeps being unknown.” That’s a nice moment.

Odd: these songs took several plays to reveal their beauty. But, in time, “Wanted More” explodes. And the harmony vocals simply soar. And “Can’t You Just” may well be the quintessential song. Tesia sings a plaintive vocal, while Matt dances around the question with a loveable melody, and the keyboard strings cut razor scars across the emotional wrists of the song. This is tight wire stuff.

“Gold on the Horizon” is dramatic with a piano bit that waves hello to the classical stuff prog guys like Keith Emerson loved.  And then “Jump Out of the Water” is soft, beautiful, and very acoustic. “Awkward” cascades over the turbulent river of the human soul. And “What We Deserve” abandons folk, pop, The Civil Wars, that Aussie band Brother, and simply states, “I’m not believing it anymore.” This one stretches faith. And it pushes the album into dark waters of musical and lyrical psychology, which, of course, makes all the other melodies in all the other tunes just more pronounced.

The record ends with the acapella “So Long Dear,” a tune that ties all strings tight enough to lift a needle from its final, and quite lovely, groove. This song evokes a Scottish deep gut Highland Clearances heart felt tune. It bleeds sadness. It probably elicits applause at the end of their set. I mean, I just had to clap in admiration, and I was just sitting alone with my Polk Audio speakers.

This is just a great vibrant folk album with wonderful songs. And, it brings to mind yet another William Carlos Williams poem, “This is Just to Say,” which simply reads (again omitting the poetic spacing), “I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold.”  Those words beg forgiveness, which is a really decent thing to do. And this album echoes that beauty, a beauty that involves glazed wheelbarrows, rain water, sweet and cold plums, and just perhaps, a few white chickens.

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