Poet, visual artist, novelist, and musician. Nathaniel Bellows doesn’t wear any of these hats more adroitly than the others but, instead, seems to possess a centralized talent manifesting itself through a variety of stylistic avenues. The lyrics for his second musical collection, Swan and Wolf, aren’t far removed from his printed poetry and share the same distinctive mix of the personal and universal grounded by another blending of significant details and artful suggestiveness. Each of the album’s ten songs are coupled with one of Bellows’ original illustrations and accompanying musicians like David Garland, Kid Millions, and Padma Newsome are critical for Bellows to realize the musical potential in each of these tracks. It is rare, in any generation, to find figures like Bellows, virtual artistic polymaths whose wide-ranging muse cannot be corralled by marketplace labels. Swan and Wolf is a singular experience and one sure to linger with sensitive listeners long after the final song concludes.
Much of Bellows’ music sounds like it emerges from a place deep within. “Only Love”, the album’s opener, presents his voice in a powerfully atmospheric way that occasionally threatens to overwhelm the song’s acoustic guitar work. Bellows’ touch with words is every bit as distinctive as you’d expect considering his stellar publication credits and what will prove a strong attraction for readers is his talent for marrying the personal with the universal in a comprehensible fashion. The coherence and carefully measured of the album’s individual songs results in the collection sharing an unity of purpose as weighty as any small collection of printed poetry. Colorful piano contributions to “How High” mitigate some of the darkness swirling in its center and the vocal underscores that hint of dread emanating from the song. Bellows rarely brings added instrumentation into his songs which makes those moments when additional elements appear all the more memorable.
“Add to This” is one of the album’s more successful moments thanks to the creative, memorable build investing the song and Bellows’ relatively unconventional voice proves more than up to the challenge to realizing the song’s potential. “What Then” and “I Awoke” are two of the album’s most fervent numbers, especially the former, and the biting lyrics for “What Then” likewise strike a notable contrast with the content for the latter song. “I Awoke” elicits an engaged, physical vocal performance from Bellows that stands out. The drumming helping to push “It Wasn’t” along to its inevitable end has just the right pulse for this song and Bellows sounds invigorated to be singing along with this tune. Backing and harmony vocals, once again, help make this song plant itself even deeper in our memories. The closer “In Time” possesses a crystalline, dream-like intimacy slowly unwinding over five minutes with some extraordinary imagery packed into that time. His use of violin is fitting for the tune and brings Swan and Wolf to a rich, though melancholy, conclusion. Nathaniel Bellows’ second album definitely rates as one of the more intelligent and substantive releases you’ll hear this year.