Nathaniel Maloney,
Old Empty Farmhouse
(independent, 2004)

"Lazy Summer Night" opens this Old Empty Farmhouse with some fine, fine banjo pickin' by Dan Garrett. On the next cut, "Keep Hope Alive" offers spiffy guitar playing by Nathaniel Maloney. There's a slight bluegrass flavour in that first cut, too.

The picking/music is just as much a feature of the whole CD as the songwriting and vocals are. On the first six cuts, the two features blend and take turns on the front stage in each song in a way that makes it feel as if you're listening to an old-time concert.

"Old Empty Farmhouse" sounds a lot like John Prine, and that's certainly not bad but the lyrics and the voice of Nathaniel in this song are richer, smoother, easier than I remember Prine being. Every song on this CD is written by Maloney, and what he's done is creatively sculpt songs with voice and guitar. There are edges and valleys, and curves where light reflects and shadows fall in every song.

"Ocean Sunsets" picks up the pace with guitar (Maloney), dobro (Brian Arnold) and flute (Robert Carothers). Actually, it's a pretty mellow pace. Like the end of an evening on the beach or a solitary time strolling along the strand. In "Mohican River Valley" the artist sings about memories, with soft strumming and a wistful voice that draws you inside the song.

"Going Downstream" is the only instrumental track. The first six tracks have accompanists to every song, and the last three are solely Nathaniel and his guitar. The last three feel like he's giving you a private audience.

Slow songs, easy listening and folk dirges can often slow the spirit if they're not done well, but I feel there's not a boring spot or a serious misstep on this CD. I can listen to it again and again, and Maloney deserves a listen for the songwriting strength on this CD, smooth vocals and pleasing but interesting musical arrangements.

by Virginia MacIsaac
13 January 2007

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