Road tripping into the valleys of retro rock always sounds like a marvelous idea. It leads one to think that suddenly, any possible sound can be altered and skewed to reflect whatever it is that we want to reflect. But, mostly, the classic sounds of the 70s continue to allow the ability to be able to showcase your own desires and fruitions and, in the end, hope for the best. For Neil Nathan, his trip on The Distance Calls is a windingly fun and eventful one as it bridges his love for folk, while tending to the past rock of bands like Electric Light Orchestra.
And, speaking of ELO, if you’re the kind of person that prefers to open with a sunny, folksy version of “Do Ya”, then there is always reason to celebrate. Like the organ on “Get On”, it sways back and forth to the pulse of the song – on pace, tempered and grooving – always bringing everything forward. Except for Nathan- the sincerity in his tones goes beyond simply covering an old favorite; it’s always coming from the heart and that goes a long way towards building credibility. It also doesn’t hurt when you already have a strong set of developed chops either.
I once heard that the reason for your dashboard being so much larger than your rearview mirror was because you should spend most of your time looking forward and not back. While such notions can be easily disputed, Nathan obviously seems to follow that same logic: continuously focusing on what’s ahead. Even when things get somber and even mellow, as they do on “Eyes Wide Open”, the message is always the same: moving forward. So it makes perfect sense that the David Bowie-like trance of “So Much More” is accompanied by a soaring chorus in admitting, “All we needed…was so much more.”
An especially refreshing aspect to note is his ability at diversifying his sound so that it wouldn’t be pigeon-holed as ‘folk’ and nothing else. From his Josh Ritter-like chug on “California Run” to the guitar-heavy sludge of “Better Be Goin'” he, more often than not, recalls the aforementioned songwriter’s ambitious tendencies. But, if you add Nathan’s obvious love for 70s classic rock and his myriad of other influences, you end up with an album as surprisingly strong as The Distance Calls.
The singer-songwriter even goes as far as delivering his own birthday greeting to listeners with the closing song, “To You (A Happy Birthday)”. The hand claps and tambourine gather everyone in a ‘kumbaya’ setting and Nathan sings, “It’s time for celebration” because there is a lot still to accomplish. I’m guessing most of The Distance Calls was self-motivated and, hopefully so, Nathan’s view is an optimistic one: ready to take charge.
“California Run” by Neil Nathan