By: Johnny Goff
Humboldt County's own The Nucleus has taken a winding journey to the release of their latest album, Love and Gold. That winding journey, while still wrapped in traditional jam-influences and jazz coercions, apparently ignited an avant-garde desire to break jam clichés.
There are no forced quirky, lyrical metaphors or careless, lazy attention to the noodling on Love and Gold. The ease of their newfound "hitchhiker folk" nostalgia is communicated comfortably through idiosyncratic soloing and group chorusing that never allow the listener's mind to stray from the story being told. Throughout my countless listens to Love and Gold, I never once found myself disengaged from the great harmonies or the calmly shared Kerouac-ian lyrical chaos. In fact, I simply began to like it more and more.
This new avenue is not without potholes, but with more than half of this album's 63 minutes filled with road weary tour travels and clever coast-hopping observances, Love and Gold is a great travel disc that also works when you have friends over some Texas Hold ‘Em.
From the Neil Young-esque title tune that opens things, it's obvious The Nucleus has embraced their new musical direction. The second track, "Deep In The Heart," is pace changing storytelling, a nostalgia piece that accompanies an upbeat Police-like reggae beat topped by bassist Steve Webb's nasal, Claypool inspired vocals. This track is also the first time Nucleus' keyboardist B. Swizlo's impact is felt. He provides a catchy contrast between the hard, edgy sound of the vocals and chorus with keyboard ska rhythms.
Album highlight "Some Eastern Shit" finds frontman Piet Dalmolen's heavy rock chords laying the groundwork for a darker '70s power-psych ballad fused with inspired lyrics of three of Nucleus' founding members' ties to Upstate New York. Again, Swizlo's keyboards add some needed energy to the song's few slow moments. As the album's longest track, "Some Eastern Shit" is the most memorable because it provides a near 50/50 split between the original Nuclues motive of happy dance jams and the newer, more mature Nuclues.
"I Don't Know What Happened" continues that approach, capturing numerous influences including Tom Waits, Neil Young and Bob Dylan in stories of the French Quarter, being robbed and left naked, and morning-after party scenes while on the never-ending highways of this great land. A quick, one-sided opinion of Nucleus' sound here is impossible, as evidenced by "Cascabel," a ditty Dean Moriarty and Robert Hunter could relate to. The ramble rolls on with six minutes of storytelling before Dalmolen again makes it clear he's not a rocking chair rocker by dropping some excellent guitar work and masterfully harmonized lyrics.
Just in case, there's been too much country/Americana influence for listeners at this point, older Nucleus fans can just skip to track 9 – a brief version of Nucleus' jammy instrumental fan favorite "Webspan," a popular Nucleus live staple that's also been previously featured on Home Grown Music.
"Swizlo's Afro" is a deserving finale. B Swizlo is Nucleus' newest addition and his impact is obvious throughout the entire Love and Gold album. "Afro" rounds out a great album that's enjoyable from start-to-finish. Nearly every track is worth listening to and its final track really conjures some of the past Afrobeat jams fans used to hear when a previous Nucleus lineup rocked a full-time saxophonist. While still maintaining their funk and jazz credentials, this album evolves their overall sound from the late night dub tent jam band into ripened, clever, bluesy main stage contenders at festivals.
JamBase | Northern California
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