New Hampshire native Nat Baldwin is back with his unique experimental sound. In the Hallows is the follow-up album to 2011’s People Changes. His pathway to solo success began by studying progressive jazz and improvisation with jazz legend Anthony Braxton and going on to collaborate with fellow improvisation artists like Lavender, Jessica Pavone, and pianist Dan St. Clair. Baldwin has been a member of alternative musical group the Dirty Projectors since 2005 and branched out to work with indie artists such as Grizzly Bear, Vampire Weekend and Department of Eagles. He began writing songs featuring the unique sound of double bass paired with a blend of his improvisation/indie roots.
His previous work on People Changes, led Pitchfork to say “…whether Baldwin is singing with his throat or his bow, there’s a thrilling feeling of freedom to it all,” and this is a sentiment that certainly resonates throughout his latest offering. In the opening track Wasted, we are immediately hit with his weapon of choice, the double bass. It begins with a furious pizzicato that gradually builds to meet Baldwin’s sweet, agile voice and somewhere among this contrast a harmonious pairing is formed.
Knockout is a stark contrast to the opening track with Baldwin’s jazz roots coming to the fore (think New Orleans jazz clubs circa 1920’s). Lilting pizzicato is replaced with slow, deep arco accompanied by percussion, creating a broader sound. His improvisation background is used to full effect with a beautiful instrumental bridge. Baldwin perpetuates the lyrics such as, “buried in the shrouds of glorious dead success, I’ll knock you out you’ll knock me” adding to the poetic mood of the song.
Much of the album seems like a book of poetry set to music. Half My Life is a prime example which has a very bluesy/coffee-house vibe to it. It begins almost acapella with just a hint of broken pizzicato and Baldwin almost narrating the words rather than singing with his usual supple vocal.
The title track, In the Hallows, is one of the most personal songs on the album giving us a greater insight into Baldwin’s psyche at the time of writing. It is a song of deep contemplation with his unique, soulful voice adding to the fragility of the arrangement, “this is my moment, my time to go”. There is a sense of freedom within the lyrics as Baldwin ponders his surroundings, “I can feel a million years in these hills, now it’s so clear…I know what I’m headed for”. Nature is something that Baldwin seems to have a real akin with, even making a Youtube video of himself playing In the Hallows live under a bridge surrounded by woodland which he seems receptive of as he plays.
A darker undertone kicks in towards the end of this album with Baldwin’s curiosity towards dying being explored in songs such as Bored to Death with lyrics; “what does it all mean now it’s gone with no way to return – no blood no guts” and A Good Day to Die, “a good day to die is the only way I know how to live”. Still, his alluring vocal manages to soothe the ominous tone and lull the listener once again.
In the Hallows is a full life-span of human emotion, from the exulting highs of love to the bitter lows of loss. This rapid roller-coaster ride is full of twists and turns as is life, with Baldwin’s limber vocal leading the way. The album strikes a chord with the senses from start to finish with his double bass being as powerful as his voice and enriching the emotion he is trying to convey within each song. In the Hallows is a breath of fresh air in today’s music industry, there is a newness and originality to this album that creates an excitement with the listener, stirring something deep within. Baldwin’s work breaks the mold which sadly means he may never see the commercial success of fellow solo artists but, if his pioneering sound manages to reach a larger audience he will no doubt find himself with a large army of loyal followers.