Although The Fall Of Eden is Kenneth J Nash’s fourth album, he admitted to me it’s the first that he’s really happy with, claiming that it’s the first where the sound has matched the sound that filled his mind when the recordings started. In some ways, the approach was business as usual, working in his home studio based in a converted hotel, is the way that Ken prefers to get the basics of the songs done. In this environment his own guitar and voice come into their own and he can relax into the performance within the familiar setting.
Ken also admits, however, that the record took much longer to make than usual, as up until The Fall Of Eden everything had been done in live takes, but having developed a network of friends and fellow musicians, sympathetic to his own style, the opportunities to flesh out the new set of songs with much fuller arrangements was the obvious step up that he was seeking. The results speak for themselves with Ken’s highly personal, often raw and emotive vignettes at the heart, dressed in a musical finery that suggests something lovingly and patiently crafted, rather than more prosaically produced and recorded.
Ken describes living in the east midlands in the heart of the traditional shoe making territory of Rushden. He lives in the Old London Road, now the A6, the local trunk road that leads the 40 miles north through Kettering and Market Harborough up to Leicester. It’s significant in that it’s around this stretch of highway that the album came together, as it also marks the home turf of his musical colleagues and collaborators. Overdubs were either done with musicians driving down along the A6 to Ken’s studio or vice-versa, with Ken taking the basic tracks out to them.
Of those other musicians there is a core trio with Fran Taylor adding her voice to most of the tracks, she and Ken have worked together for a while and have plans for the future. The enigmatically named J M Jones brings multi-instrumental abilities, contributing guitars, keyboards, accordion, bass and vocals, as well as assisting with the production. Again Ken and J are close, having previously shared band time and along with Fran, the trio run their own Old Hotel Records to look after their recorded interests.
As well as three close musical allies, there’s quite a cast of others, with the in-demand Nye Parsons on bass and another of Ken’s regular collaborators, Alan Tang, on keys, accordion, viola and violin. Steve Poole is another local folk music hero, with a substantial CV, who adds mandolin and percussion. Sean and Ciara Clutterham Reihill play harmonica and Irish whistle respectively, while Mo Coulson also represents the Emerald Isle with Irish Harp, also adding accordion and the curiously ascribed mermaid vocals. Two newer members of Ken’s circle are Amber India Frost who is studying music and the daughter of a good friend contributing cello here and Khalil Amin, who adds fiddle.
The title The Fall Of Eden is immediately evocative and one with particular personal resonance for Ken. He embraced life as a musician and then DJ full on, ultimately to the point where everything else suffered. He candidly admits it cost his two marriages, as substance abuse took hold, eventually surrendering everything and ending up homeless. Whilst the story may be far from uncommon in the world of music and many have climbed higher, there are few who have bottomed out so low and lived to tell the tale.
Thankfully that tale is one of the survivor, as that basic instinct kicked in and he underwent his own version of rehab. The result is that The Fall Of Eden may be the outsiders view of the paradise state, but even from that perspective the view isn’t simply bleak. Sure, there are elements of guilt, regret and the heartache that naturally attaches itself to those motifs. There are hints of an unquenchable thirst, but if the glass is half empty it’s also half full as he alights on memories of happy moments and also calls on the love freely given despite it all, to light the journey onward.
After Eden, one of a couple of instrumental passages that serve as scene setters and segues, there’s a lovely, loose-limbed lilt to the opening song Slow Burn. It sounds homespun, but that is meant as a compliment, becoming an increasingly endearing trait of the record and Ken has kept a largely acoustic instrumental palate throughout, which also helps with his idea of giving the players room to breathe life into the songs. His voice has that genuine dark brown warmth while Fran sings harmony and counterpoint, being allowed to wander around the melody. The acoustic bass syncopates around the spiralling guitar line, providing a floating anchor and increasing the sense of freedom.
Carol Ann shares much of the DNA of its predecessor, although Fran doesn’t feature and percussive pings and patter give a firmer mooring. There are little flourishes of Hammond organ too and if anything, Ken’s voice sinks lower and becomes almost confessional in tenor. Both of these first two songs describe gifts given freely, yet while Slow Burn admits, “You gave to me without any return, when I was on fire, you took the burns,” Carol Ann has the hope of repayment as Ken sings, “I just want to make you proud.”
If regrets simmer in those first too songs, they bubble to the top in New Holes In Old Shoes and Take Me Home. The former still retains a jaunty stride, however, especially in Nye’s sublime bass line, but Ken bemoans that, “Nobody knew that you had gone away, their lives keep them busy that way.” The latter slips sweetly into a minor key as Ken seeks for his the memory of his lover, “…In every shadow it’s in every drop of rain.” The mood is greatly enhanced by the low growl of bowed bass, the whistle and this time it’s Ciara also adding her softer toned voice to Ken’s.
We return to happier memories for St. Mary’s Heart, which even features the bell ringers from the church named in the title, as we are taken back to a wedding day. It’s slow pace, meandering guitars and curlicues of mandolin create a wistful mood and the tune betrays the regret. It’s like looking back at old photographs that can never be remade. That feeling also surfaces in the expansive The Way That She Moved, which is a vivid almost filmic portrait that has a distinct echo of Lou Reed in it’s structure, while the bowed bass and cello, combine to create a powerful emotional riptide, while a ghostly organ shimmers and mists the upper registers of the song. The coda samples waves recorded on Brighton beach, which could almost be breathing and a delightful contribution from the Irish harp and mermaid’s voice of Mo Coulson.
Dignity slots in between those last two and by contrast has a sense of defiance in the realisation that, “Your dignity is all that you own,” it’s also the only song with a drum track. You get the real sense that Ken has been there and he’s joined by two voices on the track, Fay sounding as crystal clear as usual, while the other seems slightly lost in the mix, perhaps suggesting the crestfallen flipside of this emotional coin.
That feeling is there too in Come Show Me Your Love, which despite its title finds the demons raging. The twin guitars set a harmonic course that provides another of those minor key resolutions, while again the bass plumbs the depths that bowing allows. On Strong, Ken follows that trajectory too as his voice descends to Leonard Cohen’s register. It’s one of the album’s starker moments as he concludes by asking, “Would you be born again if you could.”
It sets up the two-part finale of The Fall Of Eden to a tee. The first shorter instrumental section gives a taste of what’s to come with just guitars and the harp creating a beautiful harmonic structure. A couple of more determined strums of the guitar introduce Ken’s voice, sounding at it’s most bruised and tender. Again he is forced to confront his failings as he confesses, “I’m sorry but it’s going to hurt you, I’m sorry but I can’t change.” The song plays with an extemporisation on the opening instrumental before dropping away to the heart-rending naivety of a musical box, as the last page of the photo album is turned and the memories drift away.
Despite that withering self-assessment, it’s clear that through the catharsis of song Ken has started to move on and has also found a way to see the light through the parting clouds. He has found a way that makes it easy to identify with some, perhaps even all of these songs, finding your own memories, mixing fears and doubts with laughter, fondness and even the echoes of unconditional love. As the darkest hour passes, something more positive takes shape and the nightmares are banished. Summoning all of the latter, Ken has glimpsed the dawn’s light and if you listen to The Fall Of Eden, you will hear the sound of hope on the rise. As Joni once said, “We are stardust, we are golden and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” We can but try.
Review by: Simon Holland
The Fall of Eden is out now, visit here for tour dates and more: