Man, the new Israel Nash album is a corker.
The backstory behind Topaz is fascinating: Nash built a Quonset hut recording studio a few hundred feet from his Texas home and spent most of last year holed up in it, writing, recording, and producing. Friends and collaborators (most notably, Adrian Quesada of ascendant soul-rock combo Black Pumas co-produced it) would stop by and help out, but the record is largely Nash, alone, seeking to capture the immediacy and intensity of his thoughts and emotions.
On Topaz, Nash succeeds in channeling the intensity of his muse with the tumult of the times. Its nine songs are tight and well-composed, lyrically rooted in both introspection and the current sociopolitical moment and sonically falling at the midpoint between Crazy Horse and Muscle Shoals soul.
Opening track “Dividing Lines” is a fine example of these dynamics at work. The verses rely on a subdued blend of soul and folk, with Nash offering up a contemplative vocal. When it gets to the chorus, the track explodes, a horn section kicking in and Nash switching from crooner to belter as he reconciles the issues that divide people on both individual and cultural bases.
“Closer” is a track that feels like it could have been at home on Neil Young’s Harvest and flows nicely into the gritty country-soul of “Down in the Country.” The centerpiece of Topaz is the track that comes smack dab in the middle of the LP: “Stay.” It’s a lush blend of the aforementioned country-rock and soul. Nash channels the smooth soul crooners of the ;70s and creates a number that would be at home on any compilation of that decade’s R&B hits. That would be enough to make it a memorable track, but it concludes with an absolutely red-hot minute-long guitar solo that helps propel the song beyond serving as a throwback genre exercise.
Israel Nash offers up a little bit of everything on Topaz. If introspective alt-country is your thing, he’s got a couple songs for you. Rough-and-tumble Southern rock? There’s a few of those. Horns and big, soulful arrangements? Those can be heard throughout the record. And to his credit, he pulls this off with aplomb, and seamlessly. The album moves from one song to the next, no disjunct, no awkward stylistic turns that break up the vibe.
You should check out Topaz sooner rather than later.