March 30 marks the release of a new album from Nathaniel Bellows, entitled Swan and Wolf, a collection of 10 original tracks. The album features the talents of Timo Andres, David Garland, Michael Hammond, Kid Millions, and Padma Newsome.
Bellows is a published poet, novelist, visual artist, and musician of some note. The author of two novels, On This Day, and Nan: A Novel in Stories, for the last six years Bellows has been writing libretti for composer Sarah Kirkland Snider. Their latest release, Unremembered, was inspired by Bellow’s poems and illustrations, and received acclaim from The Washington Post, NPR, and The New York Times, along with others.
The tracks on Swan and Wolf call up vague, elusive memories of Gordon Lightfoot, for the music and lyrics go hand-in-hand, encompassing a sublime poetic grace that’s at once expressive, romantic, introspective, and profound. Bellows’ music is more austere than Lightfoot’s and less sonically luminous, but perhaps it is more poignant because of its ascetic aesthetic properties.
Highlights of the album include “To Wait,” a softly flowing folk number with gentle colors and a melancholic flavor. I love the vocal harmonies on this tune, which are muted, yet emergent at just the right moments. “What Then” is another evocative track, riding a tender guitar and Bellows’ rich, deep tones. The music almost drifts, as if meandering down a slow-moving river in a dream. This is a beautiful song, full of pale harmonics.
“The Dove” might be my favorite tune on the album because of its relentless easy flow. Bellow’s voice is indulgent and lenient, yet exudes an intensity of emotion. “It Wasn’t” blends Celtic aromas with a touch of evanescent bluegrass flavors riding somewhere inside, giving the tune an oozing elasticity that’s contagiously pensive.
Swan and Wolf is one of those albums defined as starkly scrumptious, dreamy, and haunting. It’s an album requiring more than a single listening to fully appreciate the subtle sonic nuances. The arrangements are wonderfully wrought, and Bellow’s voice approaches the hypnotic.