Jun 8, 2017

Exclusive Song Premiere: Nathan Bell "The Long Way Down"

We've got a new song to debut today, and it's a good one.  Veteran songwriter Nathan Bell brings us his new tune "The Long Way Down" from his forthcoming LOVE>FEAR album. It's a simple and spare production with hard hitting lyrics and a memorable melody. "The Long Way Down" tells the story of a working class man's fall from grace and his fears of loneliness and destitution. It's a powerful and timely song. RIYL: Springsteen, Prine, Guthrie, Tom Russell, Dylan, Earle

More about Nathan Bell below the song player.

Here's the album details:

ALBUM: LOVE>FEAR (48 hours in traitorland)
RELEASE: June 30 via Stone Barn Records
PRE-ORDER: www.nathanbellmusic.com/store


Nathan Bell. Photo by Guy Johnson.

“One of those increasingly rare finds: an unpretentious, unified set of literate and witty songs, impeccably performed." - Rolling Stone 

"Nathan Bell may be the Woody Guthrie we need in the age of globalization." - The Bitter Southerner 

Bell has created a song cycle that is both moving and timely." - Paste

“A gifted and thought-provoking songwriter." - No Depression

"His mellow, world-weary folk music chronicles the endless grind of all shades of the working person in America, from mine workers to middle managers." - PopMatters

“A crisp, literary quality, a tough blue-collar sensibility and a terse, muscular musicality." - Nashville Scene

"With his crisp, handcrafted playing and intimate, incisive lyrics, Bell documents an America teetering on the edge."  - Acoustic Guitar Magazine

Nathan Bell - LOVE > FEAR (48 Hours in Traitorland)

Nathan Bell is a songwriter’s songwriter—at 57, the troubadour’s weary voice bleeds experience. He made his bones sharing bills with legends like Townes Van Zandt, Emmylou Harris, Taj Mahal and Norman Blake. The son of a poet and professor, the Iowa-born/Chattanooga-based Bell has a keen eye for detail and an unapologetic penchant for the political, populist humanism of his literary heroes John Steinbeck, Jack London and Studs Terkel. So it’s no surprise that the 2016 presidential race—culminating the election of Donald J. Trump—was a powerful catalyst for Bell’s affecting new album Love>Fear (48 Hours in Traitorland). 

Right before we did the deed and elected an oligarch, PT Barnum-style scam artist, I started thinking it was time to collect some of thepolitical songs I’d written over the years, and combine them with some of the new ones I’d been working on," Bell says. "I’ve always been resistant to slogans and catchphrases, so Traitorland is more an album of pointed stories about people affected by the callousness of thewealthy and the power brokers. Nowadays, they’re so disconnected from the working class—they’re even more cruel than Carnegie was. Paul Ryan—I don’t know how he sleeps at night. I don’t know how a man like Steve Bannon is allowed to spend a day near whoever’s in power. My family’s half Jewish, and I look at Bannon and think, ‘Great, we’re either gonna have to run or fight again.’ So the album comes from that.”

Bell is no Johnny-come-lately at speaking truth to power. Back in the ’70s, his first gig as a teenager was a rally against the Vietnam War. “I’ve been doing this—and, trust me, it’s not the most profitable way to navigate the music industry—for a longlong time,” Bell says. “I’d take more credit for it, morally, except I don’t think I could’ve done it any other way. I never set out to be a songwriter—I wanted to be a journalist, I wanted to be Steinbeck or Hemingway. But I can’t write prose the way I can write songs. Now, Hemingway—as famous, wealthy and full of shit as he sometimes was—when he saw there was something to say about the Spanish Civil War, he said it. And he didn’t do it by getting on a soapbox and writing some heavy-handed political poem—he did it by telling stories about people.”

Turns out Bell and his literary heroes are pretty damn simpatico. On Love>Fear, his characters are portrayed with such painstaking detail and emotional depth, you wouldn’t flinch if they walked straight out of your stereo speakers, sat down on the couch and asked you for a cup of coffee. There’s a tattooed failure with nowhere to turn. A broken widower in the midst of a crisis of faith. A first-time mobile-home owner staring down a foreclosure. A beautiful woman struggling to be appreciated for her talent, intelligence and hard work. An obese veterinarian in love with a skinny, secretly transgender patent-attorney rodeo clown. The impoverished sick committing armed robbery to pay for healthcare. An active-duty soldier turned conscientious objector who opts for the stockade over the battlefield. A middled-aged man caught in the for-profit prison system, his best years slipping through his fingers. These songs are stories about real Americans—there is no black & white, no oversimplification, no us-vs.-them Left/Right posturing, just beautiful, inclusive, somehow vibrant shades of grey.

“There are people all around us who believe differently than we do,” Bell says. “Good people. And in the basics of their daily life, the political sign in their yard is no reflection on who they are to their neighbors. Over the last few years, we’ve forgotten this, and a certain level of humanity has disappeared. To me, the whole point of liberal politics is, we let people in even if they’ve made a mistake. I was out walking my dogs a few weeks ago, and I ran into one of my neighbors down the street, and she says, ‘Hey, I voted for Trump, and I'm scared shitless. Did you vote for Trump?’ Now that's a golden opportunity. I said, ‘No, I didn't vote for him. He scares the hell out of me, and he's got a Nazi working with him.’ So we stood there and talked for awhile, and I find out she's a fiscal conservative, she's a little bit socially conservative, but like a lot of people in the South, she's got six gay cousins she likes just fine. So we had a conversation, which is what we're supposed to do. Let the other side be exclusive, keep people out, and pretend everyone should be divided up into groups; at the end of the day, no matter how hard we fight, even if it means physical dissent, when the war is over, people are still people. It's how you avoid theHutus and the Tutsis warring back and forth, chopping each other up with machetes. If someone comes to you and says, 'Look, I shouldn't have voted for assholes the last 12 years. How do we put our country back together and make sure everybody's protected?' then you've got to accept that. It's hard, but you've gotta look some assholes in the eye and accept that maybe they've changed. I can't forgive a fucking Nazi, I think—until I meet some guy who was a skinhead for 25 years, and spends the rest of his life working in the AIDS ward trying to atone for it. There's always some reason for you to doubt your certainty.” 

Love > Fear captures the stark, unadorned directness of Bell’s solo acoustic performances. Many of the tracks were recorded live-in-thestudio in front of a small audience. There’s no doubling and almost no overdubs—just a man with a harp around his neck and a guitar in his weathered hands, singing and playing his heart out. At times, the sound is earthy and optimistic, a silver glimmer breaking through theclouds above an Appalachian peak; other times, it’s sparse, haunting and distant, a warning flare erupting across the dusk. But no matter the track, it’s unvarnished and immediate, the songs given room to shine in all their expertly constructed glory, shot through with the grace & grit of the finest American prose.
“I felt like this record was my chance to use what I’ve been doing for a long time, what I feel most comfortable doing, and that’s telling stories,” Bell says, “giving people a chance to use their knowledge of others to feel hopeful. Sure, there’s some sad shit on there, but ultimately it’s a hopeful record. My big goal in life is to make it so much better to love people that, after a while, hating people seems like a lot of work. You only need one commandment, right? If you love everybody, then all the other commandments are unnecessary. I'm not a religious man at all. As a matter of fact, I'm completely anti-religion. But if I could give everybody just one commandment, it would be, love each other."

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