By Craig Haze
Nate Hall is the guitarist, vocalist and lyricist for U.S. Christmas. His main band play a distinctive style of psychedelic heavy rock with plenty of metallic elements, but they’re more easily defined by the oxymoronic fact that they are difficult to categorize. They play loud, heaving and texturally askew rock with a constantly evolving nature, but they’ve always had Appalachian blues and folk rumbling throughout their work. Hall’s solo debut, A Great River, isolates those strains even further.
Weaving hypnotic tales around psych-informed electric guitar, banjo, keyboards and doleful acoustic guitar, Hall sculpts sagacious reveries. Much like the solo acoustic work of Neurosis’ Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till (Hall’s labelmates) there’s a strong sense that Hall is working through his own demons as he records. There’s a deeply personal thread to his work—a similarly penetrating spirit to that of Springsteen, Dylan or Steve Earle.
Hall’s debut carries on the grand tradition of the singer/songwriter, but what is most astonishing about A Great River is that it was recorded over a single night—and it must have been a portentous one at that. The contemplative melancholy of his work comes alive in the bluegrass and psychotropic folk of “Night Theme” and “To Wake to Dream”. His ruminative gaze is evident in the minimalist lilt of “When the Stars Begin to Fall” and “A Great River”. “Raw Chords” and “Dark Star” buzz with a ragged grind worthy of Neil Young, while “Electric Night Theme” takes a wander over effects-heavy and feedbacking tundra.
That Hall has been able to gather together and record such a profound set of songs over a single evening is extraordinary; that they sound so complete, and are filled with such evocative and expressive highs and lows, is incredible.
A Great River is raw and jagged, and yet beautifully serene in parts. It’s as incongruent and temperamental as any of our hearts, and Hall tears his chest wide open on the album, unafraid to express his own shortcomings and fears in the hunt for peace and fulfillment. His vocals, understated and world-weary, do much to secure the album’s introspective atmosphere, and it’s in that meditative core that you feel the pull of its gravity. Because although Hall is singing of his own trials, his own search for truths, we all share an innate desire to understand the complexity of our emotions and our place in a world that challenges us daily.
A Great River is so affecting because we’ve all tumbled into a raging torrent of confusion or anger on occasion, and it’s through music as honest and heartfelt as Hall’s that we can take pause and comprehend the volatility our own lives. Ultimately, whether A Great River offers Hall or us a way out of our emotional quagmires is irrelevant. What is more important is that Hall has cut a trail for us to follow, and the scenery he has revealed is utterly spectacular.