Nate Newburn – LAZARBURN – Album Review
“Singer-songwriter, humanitarian, environmentalist, cannabis activist, avid surfer.”
Dig that Nate Newburn. We’re starting off on solid ground here. Aside from the fact that my crusty behind hopelessly belongs on dry land, I feel like I can fully relate to Nate on the other four main aspects of what he feels defines him as an artist/human being. That being said, from the looks of things, he’s got about a twenty-year head-start on being smarter than me; Newburn’s a young dude, he’s rockin’ with purpose, and he’s got himself a shiny debut record full of eight hyper-aware tunes for ya to enjoy.
I ain’t gonna lie to ya, LAZARBURN’s a strange record to examine on a critical level. There’s no doubt after listening that you can hear Nate’s got a boatload of talent & unique material with perspective and a confident point of view on the world that he’s more than willing to share – and if you read further into the lyrics and about the man behind the music, you quickly learn that his activism is as important as his artistry. Likely even more-so really, which speaks to the validity of the causes he’s supporting and creating awareness about more-so than it does any kind of detrimental skillset, know what I mean? Newburn’s got verifiable talent & clearly has no problem getting into a real innovative brand of alt/folk that’s unique to himself…you can probably point to a couple of comparisons for slight similarities, like how you can literally hear his deep love of Radiohead show up in the influence of many of these tunes, even in this acoustic-based setting, but even with that factored in, Nate’s still doin’ his own thang, 100%.
And that’s exactly what makes it strange to write about; LAZARBURN is a debut…and I’m not really hearing anything from Newburn that brings any concerns to my mind or flashes any warning signs up ahead…none whatsoever really. While I’m sure he’s still got plenty of room to grow & evolve as any artist would at this stage of their career, when it comes to how this particular record has been put together…I’m not so sure there’s much I’d think to change, if anything at all. I mean, it’s consciously-aware Folk/Indie/Rock…yes there are moments where you can feel the emphasis leans more towards what the words have to say…we’ll get into that a little later on down the road here…but suffice it to say for now, Newburn and his crew of studio aces surrounding him reveal a whole lot of passion in the creation of the lineup on LAZARBURN. Any spots you’d even think to point out as something that could potentially be improved would more than likely be going against the code of the organic artist, who’s really just staying completely to true himself at the end of the day…so ya know what I mean? Like any artist or band with a defined sound, it may/may-not take time for the people out there listening to latch on – some will get Nate Newburn right away, and for others, it might take a spin or two for your ears to adapt to what he’s playin’ for ya. At the end of the day, in my world, that’s always a good thing…I think you always want a bit of push/pull in the realms of acceptance when it comes to music & art…it leads to discussion, debate, and music being talked about – because it’s all made with passion & heart, ain’t it? Only seems fair we’d give it the same level of commitment & thought when we’re listening to & talkin’ about Newburn’s tunes, after all the effort he’s put into making this debut record stand out, you dig?
Not only do I not surf, I barely leave the studio, as many of you regular readers know. I’m a land-lubber to the core and I make no apologies for that. Besides…sharks. Anyhow. I don’t want to read too much into Nate’s own story without knowing all the details, but I can only imagine the culture shock that must have occurred when the young lad from L.A. just decided to up & go for a trip halfway around the globe to Cape Town in South Africa. That’s what you call one of them real life-changing trips y’all…there’s no ‘going back’ to a regular existence after witnessing the planet as it’s truly meant to be. Again, I’m speculating from the safety & security of my bunker here in the basement where sleepingbagstudios is in Ottawa, Ontario, hiding from the cold & just about everything else I can think of right now – but as I understand it, these kind of situations that Nate found himself in and the effects don’t tend to last for just one day or a single vacation. And as we can tell from where he’s at today, back in Los Angeles, but now writing about important issues that affect us all on a global scale, I’d imagine that his trip to Cape Town probably pulled at the thread of his existing interests and wove it right into a lifetime of purpose.
Pulling no punches, Nate immediately takes on both Monsanto and the FDA as the lead-single released in advance of the record, “Did You Hear?” starts the set-list of LAZARBURN. There’s no doubt he’s rockin’ with a loose-meets-tight vibe overall…at times outside of the verses you’ll feel the adventurous spirit of his music and ability to jam come to life…and when inside of the verse/chorus/main structure of the song, he’s right on the money. At least as far as I’m concerned; I’d be willing to bet there will be a few people here & there that’ll question whether or not Nate’s selection in vocal tones is always a perfect fit or fully suits the song at times throughout LAZARBURN…but in my opinion, he’s making justifiable stylistic choices that naturally reflect his own organic talent and what he wants to contribute. Could he sound like something else? Sure? I mean, most singers can in some way, shape, or form – but the real successful ones in this whole music-business machine don’t adapt to us, we adapt to them. It’s the uniqueness in the way he sings, the integrity of his lyricism, and the confidence to perform, play, and sing with what’s essentially the same natural skillset you’d hear if you sat down beside him…that’s what pulls us in to listen to a song like “Did You Hear?” and the rest of the lineup to follow. It’s Nate’s natural appeal, his humble approach, and his own genuine interest that generates such a stellar listen for us all to enjoy as a result. Much like in the vein of say, something like our own Canadian legend in Robbie Robertson, you’ll hear the subtle tribal vibes explored in the core of the spirit of the music on “Did You Hear?” – & quite arguably in the way that Newburn sings it as well. Everything sounds like such a release of energy in the midst of a story well told with a real point of view…I mean, call me crazy, but that seems like a pretty decent way to start out an album wouldn’t you say folks & folk-music lovers? Yes indeed. For an acoustic-based sound, this comes out BOLD…Nate makes an impression right away.
With an official B3 organ sound provided by Tony Patler leading the way into “Groundswell,” I think a lot of people out there will dig the inspired spark that this lets loose at the beginning. Personally I think there’s a lot of value in a song like this…but I don’t want anyone out there to get the illusion that this implies that makes “Groundswell” an easy listen – I’d actually argue that it’s probably not for most. But when I say value, I’m talking about the genuine interest that a song is capable in creating in us, as listeners – and I think that’s impossible to deny when it comes to this second cut. It moves strangely when it comes to how it’s structured & played…and there’s a potential for that to throw a few ears for a bit of a loop when it comes to how much versatility in the movement is being packed into a short space here. For a song that’s less than 2:30 long, and a Folk-based tune at that, it’s rare to find a cut like “Groundswell” that challenges you as much to follow along with it…but ultimately, I tend to side with creativity like this that’s outside of the norm. What I thought was truly impressive about “Groundswell” beyond its lyricism, which is inherently a strength in all of Newburn’s tunes, was that each of the parts, layers, and instruments involved, all bring a verifiable hook or two of their own that has its own allure. While it might seem like it’s a more bizarre amalgamation of a series of strong ideas strung together in a way that somehow flows but doesn’t always feel like it’s going to catch up with itself, “Groundswell” still offers a ton of great energy once again, tons of passion on display, and lyrics that prove he has much to say when it comes to the damage being caused to the climate & environment we share. Most notably perhaps, is the fact that this concept isn’t just relevant – it’s a crucial call to action/reminder that “we are a groundswell, led by youth, informed by the science, defining the design of our lives, striking for justice, and human rights,” as Newburn will tell ya…& as far as this old guy here can tell, he ain’t wrong. The change we need will be defined by the leaders of tomorrow…and that shift towards realizing the youth of this planet have so much more to offer than they’ve been afforded to express in the past is happening across the planet right now…we’re all looking up to leaders like Nate Newburn that are willing to rise up to the challenge of correcting the course we’re on. I’m thankful guys like him are out there on watch and safeguarding this planet of ours…songs like “Groundswell” do a lot to remind us about what we’re fighting for, why it’s important, and what connects these issues to our very existence.
I am going to go to bat for Newburn when it comes to “Can’t Be Swayed (No More)” even though I know for a fact it’s a more challenging cut for the everyday listener out there. There’s a clip from Dead Poets Society that I often send out around the internet when I feel like someone could use a reminder that their uniqueness is an asset…it’s about conformity, which to a large degree, this song is also about. I won’t be sending that clip to Nate, because he doesn’t need it; he’s already figured out what that lesson would teach him, which is simply that it’s always best to go your own way and stay true to yourself. “Can’t Be Swayed (No More)” is likely complex in its design to willingly reflect that Nate doesn’t shy away from his natural personality, or the way he thinks & feels – it’s him making a statement through his music that, if you follow him, there’s plenty to discover & worth delving into, and right on, there’s room on the bandwagon; but if you don’t get what he’s getting at, don’t expect him to just sink to a level where he’s adapting to you & not the other way around. You see what I’ve been saying all along here? When you know you’re on the right path that works for you, you end up with songs like “Can’t Be Swayed (No More)” that brilliantly explore non-conformity, artistic integrity, and more challenging melodic designs…essentially, a track like this explores the very essence of creative freedom in every way. Do I think everyone out there is gonna ‘get’ this? Nope! Not a chance really; it’s just that much more complex than most ears can hang with. But that’s okay – and that’s a large part of why a song/record like this gets made to begin with…it sonically illustrates the entire point of the importance in blazing your own trail. Loved the additional poetry added in to “Can’t Be Swayed (No More)” as well – you’ll find the words speak volumes on behalf of the mindset, attitude, and motivations that drive Newburn. He’s an outcast & he knows it…as many socially-aware & conscious folks tend to be; but let’s face facts, when it comes to the arts, it’s people just like Nate’s that find a career in music they can truly call home.
The drums/percussion from Danny Frankel have been a continually stellar highlight throughout this record…fantastic textures, tones, and technique in his performances, and he supplies the reliable backbone to Nate to work with on the angst-ridden “Don’t Talk To Me.” Context matters…perhaps more-so in the Folk-realms of the music-scene than anywhere else – that’s usually where the story comes in when playing live, to introduce ya to the concept fueling the poetry in the words so often displayed. I think when we listen to this record as a whole, we get an understanding of what leads Nate to create a song like “Don’t Talk To Me” and what’s got him so pissed off here…and I think musically we get enough to keep our interest still engaged and there’s be no reason to skip ahead…but I do think he’s saying a whole lot less here than he’s shown us to be capable of so far throughout the album. On a conceptual/songwriting level, I get it…he doesn’t wanna talk it out, he’s angry…and hey, like many of you have experienced yourselves, it can result in muted words or silence altogether…so in a way, sure, it fits; my concern would be that “Don’t Talk To Me” stands out as a bit more plain than the others even in the circumstance of understanding what it was that Newburn was going for here. The idea works, it’s executed as strongly as any other; but by the very definition of its closed-off themes, the vibes kinda come out reflecting that in-full…it might not actively push you away or provoke you to turn it off, but it’s not exactly an invitation to sit down by the fire to snuggle up, cuddle, and listen, either – you feelin’ me? While my ultimate assessment of this track would suggest & suspect Nate’s capable of writing ten cuts like “Don’t Talk To Me” in the same time it would take to create one “Can’t Be Swayed (No More)” – I’m also about spelling it all out how you really feel in the music you make, and he certainly does that here in this moment. “Don’t Talk To Me” is almost startlingly direct, straight-ahead, and to the point really.
The immaculate bass from Janie Cowan deserves a serious shout-out for the vibes brought to the atmosphere of “Motivated By The Split” – and I really should be making more time to compliment what Nate’s brought to this record with his acoustic guitar as well, because you can hear in moments like this how well each of these elements complements the other. Bonus shout-outs to Gar Robertson who plays the shaft guitar and Robbi Robb who plays the electric on this record; I don’t always know who does what exactly, or when track-to-track, but I do know for a fact that it sure all sounds great to my ears. From the performances to the production (also provided by Robbi Robb), the sensory sound that’s been generated all throughout LAZARBURN has been remarkably entertaining and felt like we’ve been there right in the room listening with Newburn & his surrounding crew of talented musicians the whole time. Great low-end in this tune lights the way to victory, and you’ll find Nate’s mix of Punk attitude & Folk sound works wonders here; he’s latched onto some of the strongest hooks you’ll find in any of the tracks on this record and put in a real highlight all-around at the beginning of the second half of LAZARBURN. Lyrically, I’m thinking he’s talking about the uplifting feeling that comes with cutting out the real crap in life…there can be a whole lot of negative voices nattering at us in our daily routines, and likely even more-so in a politically-conscious world like Nate is living in…to be “Motivated By The Split” almost seems like a truly natural conclusion to come to after having put up with so much BS for so long, no matter who you are or what ya believe in. Sometimes it’s just nice to get a break however you can; themes he’ll revisit later towards the end in “Ready For The Forest” from a completely different angle.
“Just The Other Day” is another example of Nate turning left decisively when the right turn would have been so much easier to make. Confused by a few of the moves he makes? Go back and listen to “Can’t Be Swayed (No More)” to understand why. But he knows it…I don’t think it’s something that needs to be pointed out as a change to be made when it’s a specific choice he’s making to design his music as he has been. Lyrically, even on a visual level you can just look at the words on the page in front of you, and you can see the implications of what’s to come…you can instantly identify where the rhythm & cadence would take it the design & flow of the words, and you can immediately see where it deviates towards the middle of the first verse. Stylistically speaking, I’m all for it – but I do understand the trade being made when it comes to accessibility and how the masses listen to music. I’m not saying Nate should cater to that – ever – but it is something to be conscious about & be aware of – especially when you’re writing lyrics like this guy can, which are words that should be heard. The more obstacles created in between what’s straight-ahead & easy to absorb directly equates to more resistance from listeners in the way the naturally take in music…that’s just the way it is & the way it likely always will be; an acoustic guitar isn’t enough to fool us into believing that what Newburn is doing is just another mere Folk tune. Credit to the entire band at work here on this cut again however, because I felt like the seriously interesting energy & sound created from beginning to end on “Just The Other Day” keeps us sticking with this tune without hesitation, almost despite the complexity that could potentially throw ya off. The way Nate’s phrased his words and structured his vocals is definitely strange, but the messages are fully intact…largely, he’s representing that feeling of being disconnected from the all-out insanity that’s been taking place in society, if only for a moment here. He dives fearlessly into so many topics that people are afraid to deal with openly, and I sincerely love that about this guy – you feel the pain inside his head and his thoughts as he’s trying to come to grips with unthinkable acts taking place on this planet that can’t be made sense of. And by the end, like I said, if only for a moment, it seems like he’s just like, “fuck it all,” and embracing a pure moment of thoughtlessness…not carelessness, but thoughtlessness, where he lets all the weight off his shoulders finally for just a second or two to breathe and simply exist, without having to think about the many things usually dominating his thoughts. Inner peace – you dig? These are all just theories of my own of course, but it felt like that was what Nate was getting at, and by the time you reach the final conclusion of “Just The Other Day” you can tell he’s ready to get right back on his mission asap…a short reprieve is all a mind like Newburn’s gets before heading back into battle. Thick rhythm and grooves in the mix of this cut…absolutely one of the catchiest cuts on a musical level.
It really feels like you gotta give Nate true credit for finding the right gear and energy to complement his ideas, even if they sometimes come out a bit jarring – you realize moves like these always have a functional purpose in the writing when you consider the words that come along with’em, like how he pulled off the creative genius in “Can’t Be Swayed (No More)” earlier on. “Ready For The Forest” kind of presents similar challenges to us as listeners with the rumble through the flow of the verses and a laundry list of complaints from the main star of the show…all of which he uses expertly to set up the chorus on this cut. Taking umbrage with the city life’s endless blinking lights, traffic, and noise – Nate’s prayin’ for the rain of all rains to wash it all away to get a good night’s sleep at the very least here. Freakin’ fantastic music in this track once again…and “Ready For The Forest” has one of the most identifiable & accessible hooks to be found at the core of its chorus…between the strengths of this track, including its overall concept…I’d expect it’ll take no time at all for the people out there listening to fully back this tune as being one of the album’s strongest cuts. Another killer cut for the instrumentation; the guitars are lighting-up the background and the rhythm supplied by the drums alone is practically worth the entire price of admission. After spinning this record as much as I have…and as attached as I might personally be to tracks like “Can’t Be Swayed (No More)” or “Motivated By The Split” to this point on the record, I still couldn’t help but feel like “Ready For The Forest” likely flexed the album’s most accessible & universal vibes. Nate sings with stellar melody & true Indie spirit on this tune…definitely another highlight track on the album and no doubt one of the most relatable themes he’s put into the lineup.
Bringing it back to the cannabis activist/enthusiast that he is, Nate sings about a whole list of stuff we could only dream of living in real life on the final track “Dreams Of My Beaded Pondo Hat,” to finish this album on a more lighthearted note about a spiritual journey of sorts. Ultimately I don’t really have any major complaints about this cut…or really any of the others if you’re reading all this right…Nate Newburn is who Nate Newburn is and no one out there is gonna do Nate Newburn any better than Nate Newburn does, you dig? So when he takes a turn into a personality-driven track like “Dreams Of My Beaded Pondo Hat” and starts listing off a whole bunch of words I don’t even know, I’m still more than willing to follow this guy all the way down the rabbit hole to see if I can get what he’s getting at. While I don’t know that this last track might supply any kind of definitive conclusion to the record that would imply you’re at the end, I don’t think that’s a huge factor for many listeners out there…it’s just something to consider for the future of the music Nate’s making is all. He brings the folk-aspect right back up to the surface of this final cut, and there’s a playfulness in his vocals that certainly implies just how much what he’s singing about appeals to him, and in the process, sure makes it sound appealing to us as well! I want to “have a sacred steam” and “eat more” of whatever “millipap” is! Or…at least I think I do? Like I said, it’s the interest that you can genuinely hear Nate has in the subjects & details of what he’s singing about that make it seem highly appealing to us all…at least, I don’t think I’ll be alone in that…we can all hear the passion that Nate brings to his music, and it counts for a ton when it comes to us adapting to his unique style. He’s proven that he’s got chops, perspective, and an immense degree of social awareness; he’s got a crew full of supreme talent supporting him throughout this record as well, and he’s certainly proven by example that I need to get the hell out of this studio & back into the wide-open world a whole lot more.
Find out more about Nate Newburn from his official page at: https://artistecard.com/nathannewburn