Mark Nathan,
Out of Nowhere
(Radio Runner, 2005)

Mark Nathan's debut CD, Out of Nowhere, is aptly named: it not only comes from out of nowhere, it quickly becomes apparent that it's going nowhere either. Nathan's monotonous voice and syllabic singing do little more than give a bad name to striving independent folk musicians. The only thing more monotonous than his voice is the music itself. It's as if the whole album is one song in 15 parts, with each part consisting of nothing more than six notes. I'd be curious to watch Nathan perform to see how often his hands move upon the frets: perhaps once at the end of each song to get ready for the next.

Maybe that's unfair. There are perhaps two songs that don't sound exactly like all the others, but I'd rather not risk another listen to dredge up their titles. Because of the aforementioned monotony, if I were to play these songs another time, they may become uncomfortably familiar to me and I wouldn't be able to tell if I disliked them or not.

The album is full of reverb and echo, which, at first, adds an enchanting quality to Nathan's voice and guitar, especially in the opening track, "Brothers Grimm," probably the strongest song on the album. In it, we find him singing of the "cow who jumped over the moon," "bah bah, black sheep" and "the woman who lived in a shoe." At first it almost sounds like Nick Drake's "Time of No Reply." Though six seconds later, I know it's not Drake and wonder whether I've accidentally put on some children's record.

The one good thing I can say about Nathan is that his voice is rich -- when he wants it to be. He is almost reminiscent of Brendan Perry, and soon into the album I expect a further pleasant and lulling listening experience. "Down Town" does remind me of Dead Can Dance's "The Carnival is Over," and songs like "I Know" allow Nathan to show he is able to offer a little bit of fine baritone soul.

After the sixth track, I start to wonder if the echo isn't just compensating for the trite titles and cliche lyrics. Perhaps it isn't there so much for enchantment's sake, but more so because Nathan is really just a lonely, sad, boring bum and this echo paints the picture of him alone in a tight alley, playing his songs to no audience. Such is obvious in his ever-pathetic songs like "I'm All Alone" ("I'm all alone / nobody's talking to me / ... so many faces / and nobody's talking to me").

During the eighth track, I find myself wondering if I've already heard this song. Something is certainly nagging me. And then it hits me: the cat that ran away with the spoon, the cow who jumped over the moon, bah bah black sheep and the old woman who lived in a shoe are all Mother Goose characters! And at this point I can do nothing except feel embarrassed for Nathan, for he's even gotten his facts mixed up!

For better or for worse, Out of Nowhere is the debut production of Radio Runner Records. Being their first album, it's obvious they didn't know what they were doing. Perhaps the sound Nathan wished for was made possible by his friend and producer Rich Ataman, but as for how to mix an album, neither seemed to have a clue. Not that you can blame them. I believe that their energies simply weren't in it. From Nathan's website, one can see that the whole thing may have been a rushed project. The site offers little information about Nathan, but errors and typographical inconsistencies do prevail.

Though Nathan and Radio Runner Records may have come out of nowhere, the likelihood of them getting anywhere is pretty slim. I hate to say this, but perhaps they should go back to nowhere.

by Kevin Shlosberg
16 December 2006

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