Joe Nolan – Tornado
Star power can be the thing that transforms raw material into spectacular material. Now, I’m not comparing Joe Nolan to, say, Britney Spears. I should hope not. The newest Six Shooter artist lined up some of the best in star-making machinery to put together Tornado, and boy, did they do a great job.
But strip away all of that extra effort and what you’re left with is a set of astounding songs that, really, needed no help. Nolan is raw talent through and through.
I’ve always liked Joe. I was lucky to hear his earlier work during my passes through Calgary, while he was toiling away in small clubs there and in Edmonton, writing songs when he wasn’t navigating the often treacherous Highway 2 to get to gigs. Tornado is the result of a rapidly maturing songwriter who sees the world through a melancholy lens and isn’t afraid to share his thoughts with anyone who will listen.
A friend of mine said melancholy is the best mental state to find yourself in. It’s hazy. It colours your interactions and reminds you of the dark side you try to hide from others. All is not dismal with melancholy, though; it’s about the sweetness of sadness and it lets hope peek through occasionally. It is precisely these nuances of the mood that Nolan has captured on Tornado.
Nolan deals with some universal topics: beginnings, loss, fear, nostalgia, all with economical language and appropriate emotion. The angst of the 20-something is ever-present, but conveyed in the language of someone who has seen a lot more. He’s alternately jaded, wise, resigned, and hopeful.
Nolan is a master of repetition, re-using words in such a way that they linger in your mind after listening, but not so much that they annoy you. And as much as he’s a great songwriter, more importantly to me, he’s a masterful singer. The control he has over his voice is remarkable; he knows how to manipulate articulation, intensity, and pitch change at key moments. In the title song, he exudes warmth through his gentle phrasing, whereas in “I’ll Still Remember Your Name”, he’s full of tortured rock star angst. Meanwhile, he gets down to a whisper in songs like “My Sweet Forever”, while other songs display vulnerable fragility in his wavers and barely-there falsetto.
While all of this makes the album great on its own, the contributions of his backing band really seal the deal. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings members Colin Linden and Tom Wilson are on hand for guitar and singing duties; Gary Craig and Marco Giovino (Robert Plant) appear on drums; John Whynot (Lucinda Williams, Blue Rodeo) is on keys; and Lindi Ortega shows up for some beautiful backing vocals on the opening track. Linden produced the album, giving it perhaps its best quality: consistency in its warmth and mood, augmented by Whynot’s engineering. Great albums like this remind us that it’s still a fine art form.
Nolan is embarking on a short Canadian tour, opening for label mates Whitehorse to promote the record’s release. Dates can be found on his website, and you can visit the Six Shooter site for more info.