Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Nathan Partain’s Jaywalker: Tight, finely-tuned Southern rock with a couple surprises up its sleeve

July 24, 2015

8 Panel Poster Fold Insert.eps

I rarely go out of my way to comment on the religiosity or lack thereof espoused in the lyrics of the bands I cover here on Independent Clauses. While I’m not quite as agnostic as Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman on whether “Christian music” can exist, I focus pretty heavily on the music at IC. (This decision in and of itself points toward my answer on the question; a deeper philosophical treatise on this issue will have to wait.)

However, it’s almost not possible to talk about Nathan Partain‘s Jaywalker without mentioning that these Southern-rock/folk-oriented tunes are meant to be sung in churches. Partain’s melodic and arranging chops accent but never hinder the ability of these songs to be easily sung by congregations (or people in cars, or walking down the street, etc.).

“I Have Found a Hidden Fountain” opens the record with squalling electric guitar feedback before launching into a full-band Southern-rock vibe, complete with screamin’ organ. After the intro, the band tones it down to feature the dual vocals: Partain’s yearning tenor up front and female vocals supporting with harmonies and tasteful wordless counterpoint. The band doesn’t totally drop out–they merely make way for the vocals to take center stage. This allows the tune to feel tight and real while still leaving the vocal melody easily heard, a trend that continues throughout the album. They get soulful in an instrumental solo section, drop down the volume for dramatic effect, then ramp back up to full weight to close out the tune.

Partain rolls out more Southern rock vibes in follow-up “It’s God Who Saves,” unveiling a nicely arpeggiated lead guitar line on top of more tight band interplay. He also lets his voice get a bit ragged in points, giving the performance a grit that wasn’t present in the more straightforward opener. Even though there’s not as much guitar action in this one, this is a bit more wide-open full-band performance. Partain and co. max out the rock grit with the innocuously-titled “Love is a Gift,” which contains a thunderous guitar riff and roaring vocals in the chorus. (As a result, this is the song that least feels like a congregational possibility.) If you love a bass-heavy Southern rock tune, you should skip straight to this one.

Moving toward the folkier end of the spectrum are tunes like “A Son of God” and “In Tenderness He Sought Me”; these dial back the electric firepower and lean heavily on the polished, evocative vocal melodies. The former includes swinging syncopation that makes it straight-up fun to sing; the latter gives Sarah Partain a verse, and her gentle, affectionate alto softens the already-sweet tone of the tune. “Hold Thou My Hand” is a stark, vulnerable piano ballad whose lyrics and melodies helped develop a catch in my throat by the end.

The most intriguing two songs on the record transcend tunes identifiable by genre labels: “Jesus Is Mine” and “He Was Wounded” invert generic stereotypes to create unique tunes. “Jesus Is Mine” opens with heavy-handed piano whacks and insistent bass thump, then splays out into a vaguely minor-key jam: the piano goes all saloon, Partain distorts his “oh-oh” vocals in the verse breaks, and the guitar wails in engaging ways. It’s not your average Southern-rock jam. Ominous isn’t the right word for a worship song, but whoa. “He Was Wounded” uses organ and delicate clean electric guitar to open in an almost ambient drone; there’s a spacious, elegant, cathedral-esque glamour to the tune that doesn’t draw its strength only from the gentle reverb. It’s quiet and tense without being a solo acoustic performance, something that isn’t so common in folk (with the strong exception of the Barr Brothers).

Jaywalker is a powerful album of Southern rock and acoustic-folk tunes that slots nicely next to bands like Hiss Golden Messenger, Megafaun, and Jason Isbell. Because of its roots, you can sing along every single tune (a highlight in my eyes!). On top of that, the arrangements are tight and finely calibrated to make the songs work right. I’ve been listening to it for weeks and haven’t gotten tired yet. Highly recommended.

SXSW write-ups!

March 20, 2012

Here are links to every single one of my SXSW posts, in alphabetical order. I’ll post my best-of lists tomorrow.


Avalanche City

The Barr Brothers
The Black and White Years
Black Canyon
Brianna Gaither
BrotherBear
Canailles
Chrome Pony
Cloud Nothings
Crooks
Daniels(((s)))
David Ramirez
Deerpeople
Denver Duncan
Desi and Cody
Dva
The Ettes
Feathered Rabbit
Ezra Furman
fun.
G-Eazy
Glen Hansard
Gliss
Gold Beach
Holy Fiction
Imagine Dragons
Jabee
Jesse Aycock
Josh Sallee
Little Scream
Megafauna
The Men
Modern Rock Diaries
Mont Lyons
Mother Falcon (@ The Parish) (@Bethell Hall)
O Fidelis
Oh Look Out
The Panda Resistance
Pomegranates
The Pretty Black Chains
Scales of Motion
Sea of Bees
Shitty/Awesome
Talking to Turtles
Those Nights
Thus:Owls
Titus Andronicus
The Tontons
TOPS
Vox and the Hound
We Were Promised Jetpacks
Whiskey Shivers
Wild Belle
Wink Burcham
Zulu Winter

SXSW Artists I've Fallen For, Batch One

February 5, 2012

I’m heading back to hipster Christmas SXSW this year, freelancing for the Oklahoma Gazette with talented chap Matt Carney. I’m scouring through the announced bands so that I’m ready when it comes time to suit up make my schedule. Here’s some A’s and B’s that I hope to check out in Austin:

The Black and White Years play indie-rock with electro influences, but it’s their insightful lyrics that really hooked me. Okay, and the melodies.

The Barr Brothers. Josh Ritter’s gravitas + The Low Anthem’s transcendent beauty + Avett Brothers’ brotheriness. This is solid folk gold, people.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich. Bon Iver’s dreaminess meets ascendant beauty.

Adam and the Amethysts. Gleeful folky/calypso/whatevery goodness. Givers and Lord Huron should be all up on them as tourmates.

The American Secrets. You know this band as the FreeCreditScore.com Band. But did you know that all five are long-time indie-rock vets? And one of the members is in Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.? And that they write pretty brilliant songs when not composing ditties for commercials?

There will be oh so many more to come. I hope to post these weekly until SXSW.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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