Neil Nathan has become something of a critical darling during his brief, thus far, run in the spotlight and every new release moves him closer and closer to the front line echelon of modern singer/songwriters. There’s really no one else like him working in modern music today because he manages to successfully and artfully straddle the line between past and present without ever sounding uneasy in either camp. This isn’t an exercise in retro or derivitave imitation. His sound has drawn justified comparisons to artists as varied as David Bowie and Leonard Cohen and his latest single “Flowers on the Moon” bears that out, but it isn’t a performance that ever feels beholden to past masters. Call it pouring old wine into new, distinctively shaped bottles if you like. One thing is for sure – it seems to effortlessly spring from Nathan’s creativity and his voice is needed today.
The song has ambling, sure footed grace from the first and, when Nathan’s voice enters for the first time, it takes on a new level of assurance that further wins over listeners. It has an uncluttered approach and a restrained amount of instrumentation despite its obvious ambitions. During its relatively brief running time, Nathan’s voice confidently follows the arrangement through a creative handful of approaches and never sounds uncertain of itself. It is apparent that he’s enlisted a first cast cadre of supporting production staff and other creative talents to help him pull this off, but it’s equally apparent that each of them are as committed as Nathan to serving the song and eschewing any self indulgent attempts at glory. The lyrical content has quite an imaginative side, but it follows the same line as the music by never falling prey to imitation despite its influences and has a memorable refrain that’s a great payoff for the content of the verses.
Nathan’s voice is seemingly capable of adapting to any approach. He’s equal parts melodic and forceful and wields phrasing that’s capable of orchestrating the song’s emotions in any way he wishes. He really adds a dramatic emphasis to some of the song’s stronger moments of imagery without ever succumbing to overkill – this is an art, in and of itself. He’s, likewise, an obviously attentive singer. Some vocalists attempt juxtaposing their voice against the instrumentation in an attempt to create tension, but this song doesn’t require that. Nathan knowingly tailors his approach, both emotionally and in terms of technique, to what’s happening with the arrangement and the results are much more notable. This is a case of an artist who entered the recording studio with a clear idea of what he wanted to accomplish with the material and pulled that off with a minimum amount of fuss. Neil Nathan’s “Flowers on the Moon” will certainly remind you of some performers. It will be just as clear, however, that Nathan has his own spin on this and it will reel you in given the opportunity.