Album review: ‘the brewer & the dealer’ by Kenneth J. Nash


Here is something rather special. Thirteen original songs by an excellent artist playing with a virtuoso band. There are delights in the brewer & the dealer that match anything I’ve heard all summer, be it at gigs or on the radio. And I have listened to a lot of music. Let me tell you what it is that has me purring like a well-fed cat every time I put the album on.

The songs are introspective, meditations on love lived and lost. We’ve all been there. But the melancholy of some of the words and images is contrasted, or perhaps heightened, by some breathtakingly lyrical ideas:

          The cool evening air

          blushed you like an apple.

                                           (‘my english rose’)  

Ho, match that poets! And some of the more hopeful songs, the more loving or forgiving songs (‘falling’; ‘tigers aren’t tame’), are layered with fascinating ambiguities, as if Ken’s saying something that’s not quite as obvious or simple as it appears. At least, that’s how it strikes my ears, after five or six listens. Love and cruelty and hate can all look remarkably like each other:

          It’s a shame

          that you couldn’t stand the rain

          that you couldn’t take the pain

          and it’s a shame

          that tigers aren’t tame.

                                              (‘tigers aren’t tame’)

The melodies range widely in style and influence. It’s all acoustic, but within that broad frame we’re treated to gentle lilting English folk stylings, violin accompaniment suggestive of the vast open spaces of America, and a tour-de-force display of Spanish guitar by Kevin Lee on ‘gitane.’ This is great music, to put it simply, and the great music is complemented by wonderful vocals.

Nash’s gentle but expressive voice is perfectly suited to these mature songs of love. He can paint a lot of pictures in many different emotional colours without seeming to do much at all. And when backing vocalist Fran Taylor weaves her beautiful voice around his the effect will stop you in your tracks. Listen to them sing together on ‘we all belong’ while Alan Tang creates violin figures around them. If you’re not moved to tears, my friends, then you are a hell of a tough crowd.

I have seen Nash perform two or three times now but I don’t think I fully appreciated his art until I heard the brewer & the dealer. He plays in clubs and at festivals around here, but he’s more than a local artist (not that there’s anything wrong with local artists). Stuff like this could hold its own anywhere and in any music collection. I swear I saw Gram Parsons and Nick Drake move along to make room for Kenneth on my cd shelf this morning.

 the brewer & the dealer by Kenneth J. Nash (Old Hotel Records).


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