Kalen Nash – Ukred

January 01, 1970

(Normaltown Records)




Kalen Nash is the Athens,
Georgia, -based
lead singer for Ponderosa, one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of groups
rising in the American southland. With a song on The Lucky One soundtrack, rave reviews for live performances, and
approximately 4,000 current Facebook “likes,” the band seems to be rising to
the top of that southern heap. Its increasing popularity makes sense: the
band’s approach and material fall somewhere between Canned Heat, the Allman
Brothers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Its delivery? Gut-level, attitude-free, powerful.


But Ponderosa is just one story. Relevant here is that
Nash’s Ukred is the virgin offering
from Normaltown, a fledgling Athens-focused imprint of New West Records which
offers regional artists a place “to develop and grow… without (the) immediate
expectations or pressure typical of getting signed.” (The album is a
digital-only title; there’s no indication at present whether it will be given a
full release.)


Ukred opens with a
dusty country blues query, “Don’t You Love Me Baby.” Nash sounds as close to an
aging, rocking chair-bound string-picker as any young man could. Of itself, the
song’s pretty much textbook testimony. Everything is in Nash’s delivery: His
tones and inflections carry a lifetime’s weariness. After some digging, it’s
revealed that the song was composed nearly a century ago by Nash’s
great-grandfather, Euquid “Ukred” Lee Nash. Hence the title, and
starting point, for an uncommonly affecting release.


Nash clearly embraces arcane roots music practices – for one
thing, several years ago he constructed a cigar-box guitar that he plays with a
bottle neck slide and runs through a cigar box amp that he claims is “courtesy
of Deadwood.”  Ukred dips into the shadows of Georgia’s
aged oaks, and Nash’s great-grandfather’s songbook, for history and
inspiration. After the dropped guitar tuning or dulcimer notes (can’t tell
which) of the opener, there’s an easy transition into something more like the
present with Nash’s original, “White Oak.” However he’s getting the minor-key
harmonics (probably a guitar; Nash is running the instrument through an effect
that gives it a ghostly, player piano quality) backing his vocals, the track is
quietly sublime.


Not everything is as gorgeous as “White Oak.” A couple of
tracks could sit comfortably with engaging musings by Moondoggies or Fleet
Foxes. The material’s consistent threads are sensitivity and openness — Nash
is unusually willing to show vulnerability. A victim of unrequited or lost love
could have issues with sitting through “Tell Me You Love Me Again,” which
implores, “Baby, won’t you lie?/Baby, won’t you sin?” Also remarkable is Nash’s
ability to retain focus and intensity – there’s no goofy throwaway; no words
that convey, “I’m really a cool guy – this is just a role I’m playing.” The
only thing at all distant is “Wake Me Up” – with a bit more spit and polish, it
could emanate from a number of contemporary wannabe bluesmen.


Nash’s focus and intensity are remarkable while
understandable, given his ability to favor more of a good ol’ boy persona with
Ponderosa. Here, however, Nash keeps his hand up against his wounds, and those
of his subjects. The tracks are ordered with an eye to how much a listener can
bear, so that a sob fest is averted. Excepting
the possibly excessive seven minutes of “To Be,” he tends to rein himself in;
to know when he’s getting close to a wall, and when to effect a graceful dodge
to the left or right.


All elements considered — vocals, musicianship, song craft,
adherence to honesty, fabrication of the entirety, and meticulous
engineering/arranging (by Ponderosa guitarist Kris Sampson),  Ukred is a wonderful thing; a journey that’s riveting enough to keep those who don’t
want to be this close to anyone’s feelings around for a trio of beautiful
closing tracks. I’m moved by artists who reach the otherworldly essence of
Fleetwood Mac with Danny Kirwan, circa Future
/Bare Trees, and a song by
Kirwan called “Dragonfly,” as well as Spirit’s “Nature’s Way,” and King
Crimson’s “Book of Saturday.”  Getting
there can be a perilous journey. It’s not an easy place to access – and, once
accessed, from which to beat a retreat. But, as Nash professes on “Not Enough,”
“I’m not running away from home.”


Oak,” “When And Where,” “Where Are You,” “The Uno” MARY LEARY



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