The thing about mountains is that, essentially, they’re an obstacle. Something to get around or over, to put behind you. This might entail some endeavour, some work, some guts before it’s finally behind you allowing you to get on with your journey. So it was with Texan Jeremy Nail, a jobbing Austin musician with one album under his belt and an occasional gig playing guitar with Alejandro Escovedo. His mountain was a cancer, a sarcoma that led to a leg amputation in 2013, enough to derail anyone. However, My Mountain, an album that alludes to his struggle on several songs, is evidence that that Nail, in the words of the Dude, abides.
Of course, numerous musicians have overcome tragedy and moved on; Nail the latest in a long line including Robert Wyatt, Chet Baker and Rick Allen. He’s assisted here by another musician whose livelihood and indeed life was threatened by illness a few years back, his old chum Alejandro Escovedo who produced the album and co-wrote one of the songs. And while Nail doesn’t sound like Escovedo, the album is not dissimilar to some of the latter’s solo albums, some warm Texan guitar licks mixed with bitter sweet string laden laments the order of the day. Escovedo’s production is masterful, creating an ambience that recalls the work of Daniel Lanois.
The album opens with the gutsy title song, ponderous bass and drums and jagged acoustic guitar leading into sweet female harmonies and sinewy slide guitar, a wonderful slice of swampy rock. Here Nail alludes to his illness singing, “Gonna climb my mountain, it’s about time, just sit back and watch me walk this crooked line”. The following song, Down To The Ocean, the co-write, has Escovedo’s fingerprints all over it recalling melodies from his album Thirteen Years especially on the opening however Nail takes the lead here, his voice earnest and warm as he confronts his demons waving goodbye to his failures “to come back new again”. It’s a sublime song, evocative of the womb if such a thing is possible, the bass a heartbeat, burbling guitars and coiled slide cosseting it. Similarly Survive mentions a new beginning and again it’s bathed in a warm ambience, this time recalling Daniel Lanois’ work with Emmylou Harris and Neil Young, an acoustic scaffold supporting fragile voice and atmospheric guitar with gliding female harmonies. Nail revisits this sonic territory on the wonderful Only Love while the Lanois effect is most apparent on the epic New Frontier.
There are echoes also of fellow Texan Buddy Holly on the upbeat Dreams and on Heroes (not the Bowie song), here especially in the guitar lines but it’s back to that ambient guitar swaddle on the plaintive Calling All Cars, a shuffling rhythm section bowing to fine arcs of molten guitar lines. Nail closes the album with the relatively simple Tell Me What Else You Got, a challenge to fate that’s embroidered with some sweet violin playing from Eleanor Whitmore and a final guitar flourish from Chris Masterson. Mention of these two should be accompanied by an acknowledgement of the stalwart efforts from Bobby Daniel on upright bass, Chris Searles on drums and Dana Falconberry and Jazz Mills on harmonies.
Aside from his own story and his mountain to climb, My Mountain is a sublime listen. A late night wallow in warm guitars and intoxicating rhythms bathed in pathos.