“The whole idea of this album was to lift the souls of people with sounds just because it’s a crazy fucking world. I get depressed in it.” These words come from a man who sounds trapped. But with his unique brand of cosmic Americana, Israel Nash bends, shapes, and even shatters the boundaries of tradition all over again. Through metaphysical hymns that eschew the standards of industry taxonomy, the singer-songwriter defies genre confines on his fifth studio album, Lifted. Scheduled for release on July 27, 2017, the album was recorded in Nash’s very own studio, Plum Creek Sound. “When I get studio stuff going, I’m basically in [there] for three days, fifteen hours a day. [I’m] not eating very much… I’m seeing the sun rise.” The dreamlike melodies on Lifted evoke vivid mental imagery. So much so, in fact, that on “Hillsides,” listeners can enjoy a near personal replication of those very studio sunrises Nash speaks of. In a well suited counterbalance, the album’s penultimate track, “Strong Was the Night,” spiritually escorts listeners right back into the dusk, where all things must go to die. Yes, Lifted is a very much a journey within a record – one that traverses steep canyons and rolling valleys. But the true beauty of Lifted can be found beyond the sonic and aesthetic. The record is special because of its twofold functionality. In dyadic fashion, the album’s formula starts by bulldozing stylistic partitions with a heady concoction of sounds. After those partitions have fallen, Israel Nash – with the help of Eric Swanson, Joey McClellan, Aaron McClellan, and Josh Fleischmann – guides his listeners skillfully across the American frontier.
Lifted is brazen in its multifaceted originality. The album’s instrumental experimentation seizes the spotlight repeatedly, from the rhythmic horns section that crescendos in “Looking Glass,” all the way up to “Northwest Stars (Out of Tacoma)” and its xylophonic primer. Nash used drums that were played on rain collection tanks, as well as authentic sounds from the great outdoors – frogs croaking and crickets chirping – to pepper the track list. A rattle snake even makes a cameo at one point. Perhaps Lifted’s album art makes the best case for its inventiveness: what began as a concept painting illustrated with watercolors was transformed into a life sized diorama and photographed in Plum Creek Sound. The bucolic diorama features a river surrounded by foliage and different animals, all situated below sprawling clouds. Indeed, Nash quite literally crafted a physical resemblance of the Hill Country west of Austin using his bare hands. These creative elements that debut on Lifted were fostered patently by the minds behind Plum Creek Sound. Referencing his beloved studio, Nash says it’s “finally in a condition where you actually just walk in and make records. [And by] having [the] studio, the connection to production is even deeper and at a more technical level. Now, I’m just digging in so much [more].”
A world traveler himself, Nash is accustomed to touring the United States and Europe in broad swathes. “There’s an incredible amount of excitement when you’re just heading out away from home and traveling into the world and making music and meeting people,” Nash opines with a laugh. “Very diplomatic answer, I guess.” Lifted is anything but diplomatic, though. The guitarist gets away with his daring takes on Lifted because, in addition to his musical adroitness, he is a vagabond at heart. Originally from the Ozarks, Nash has moved around from New York to Texas. Though he now calls the Lone Star State home, he’s “been able to go to a lot of cool places because of music.” It’s no surprise that this theme translates into Nash’s studio work. “I really wanted to bounce around the genres within [American music],” he says. “I want to be able to surprise people.” Nash seems quite likely to deliver in that respect. Lifted combines influential elements from a hallmark caste of American producers and musicians like Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. Nash himself testified that he “was kind of trying to make this one Hill Country-Wall of Sound.” He also mentioned the effects imbued on him from George Harrison’s legendary 1970 triple album, All Things Must Pass (1970).
Deft range and visceral foresight in his back pocket underneath a broad horizon that beckons for more, listeners should feel comfortable that Nash will continue to answer the call of the wild. “I like the focus of bigger things, and this album was kind of representative of the space for me to find those things, so I’m really glad to share it,” he says. In a world abound with visual distractions like television, internet, and buzzing smartphones, he admits that “it’s harder to get [music] out there.” Even so, the art means more to Nash as he gets older and his skills and focus continue to appreciate. “Some of it is almost being a part of the craft – the thing that makes music go on so it can live long past me and on to other people, so that they may create.” It seems as if the cosmic cowboy is in it for the long haul.