THE BENEFITS OF TIME Jon Nolan has
transformed his music since his last album, in 2005.
| Photo by Jay Fortin
Remember alt-country? Jon Nolan was good at that. With Say ZuZu, back at the turn of the century, he was right there with the Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo, making twangy songs that were sorta rock and sorta country, and generally had that country tinge of hard-living and hard times, but with an indie sensibility.
Now, alt-country has been swallowed up by the stringband revolution and new folk and all these singer-songwriters and it’s possible that more than a few of you have forgotten that Nolan just happened to write and record one of the best solo records the Northeast has ever heard, When the Summers Lasted Long, featuring the truly magnificent “Mary (Won’t You Come Along),” plus a batch of other mostly acoustic tunes filled with nostalgia and regret.
Since that came out in 2005, Nolan has been busy recording other folks at his Milltown Recording Company studio. People like Laurel Brauns, whose Closed for the Season featured 11 guest musicians, but sounded seamless. People like Roy Davis, whose We Are a Lightning Bolt was a moody tour de force. People like Zach Jones, whose Things Were Better was my pick for best record of 2012 and for which Nolan also wrote the title track.
Along the way, though, Nolan’s been dutifully working on his own material in bits and pieces, and is finally ready for you to hear his follow-up, Everything Has Changed, 10 songs that prove the title to be true. Not only has he morphed his sound to include more pop and rock elements, but he also just sounds like a much happier guy, one who’s found the love of his life (the life he loves, even) and isn’t about to let go.
Maybe that’s why “Things Were Better,” a plea for a gal to return, fits Jones slightly better than Nolan. It’s still a spectacular song here — an equal to “Mary,” really — but where Nolan helped Jones vamp it into a rollicking R&B tune, for himself he went more stripped down, with a more bitter taste for lines like “what have I done to make you feel forsaken/Oh, hell if I know.” This is Otis Redding to Jones’s Four Tops.
Where this album really shines is with the shagadelic silliness of “Record Shop Girl,” which opens the album with a giddy-up of electric bass and spacey keyboards. This is what Nolan does best: not just a chorus, not just a pre-chorus, but a pre-pre chorus of sing-along. Oh, the vocal trills. But there are horns, too, from the likes of trumpeter Mike Nelson, and wait till you hear the trombone solo that Billy Kottage (Reel Big Fish/Big D and the Kids Table) blasts out at the finish of the title track, like he’s strutting down Bourbon Street in the sunshine. It’s a bookend to a song that’s bouncy as hell, with a high-low chorus like a pump organ and a piano piece that’s playful like Tom Hanks on the floor keyboard in Big.
“I’m so deeply in love with you,” Nolan sings, as shout-it-from-the-rooftops as it gets.