Kenneth J Nash – Luna
Old Hotel Records – 2017
In these days of polished pop-stars, celebrity couples and the pressure to curate your life on social media to photoshopped perfection, it’s refreshing to find an artist as honest as Kenneth J Nash.
His website states that his music is ‘…heavily influenced by his time spent on the road as a musician and DJ that threw his personal life into turmoil, his music resonates as a poignant story of a man who’s been to hell and back more times than he can remember, but has come out the other side stronger.’ It also notes his songs deal with ‘addiction’ and that it’s been a ‘dark journey’.
That last phrase could also be attributed to Nash’s latest release, Luna, which is subtitled on the sleeve, ‘a journey from dusk ’till dawn’. The nine tracks on the album loosely form a song-suite from late evening birdsong through to the dawn chorus.
The dark country of Born to Be Free opens and sets a mournful tone, Nash’s lived-in vocals lightened by the singing of Fran Taylor’s more pure tone – a combination that proves one of the highlights of the album. The intricate acoustic guitar picking and spoken-word intro to Another Flag continues the mood, and you get the impression this is a singer laying his life and personal relationships bare.
Like a River brightens things up and the song unfolds like a forgotten country standard – it’s the sound of someone looking beyond the pain of a past relationship to a new lover and the promise of a better path ahead.
The epic Luna i & ii forms the centrepiece, but it’s also a turning point in the album. The singer mourning lost love for his partner, rejecting the lure of a life of domesticity, and answering the call of the road. Four minutes into the 11-minute track, the song switches into a sprawling bass-electric guitar-drums instrumental which transcends into a sonic interlude of found sounds and white noise. Then a church bell ominously strikes midnight followed by a sparse piano coda.
The second half of the album starts with the relatively-upbeat For Her, and it’s a new relationship which is again keeping the singer from ‘the darkest place’. And, although he finds solace there, it’s clear that excess booze, maybe harder stuff, still holds a grip.
Ghost is another reflection on the singer’s need to follow his muse to a life of lonely roads, the toll that plays on the mental health of a musician, and the effect that has on loved ones. ‘You can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else.’
As the morning light begins to break through, Rook and a Dove is the most explicit exploration of the themes of Luna: two lovers sharing a perfect moment, holding hands as the dawn breaks and nature awakes. But before things get too cosy, This Time I is another break-up song and – despite all the pleadings of the singer – his lover isn’t prepared to join him on the journey.
A couple of song reprises close the album, This Time II and Luna III. It’s another alt-rock instrumental but dirtier and more discordant than before. It’s clear that when the emotion becomes too overpowering for Nash, lyrics dissolve into a sea of guitar to help express what words alone can’t.
As the dawn chorus rises, barely audibly, a girl whispers ‘wake up’. And you feel the freshness of a new day rising, as Luna is revisited, and the album closes on an optimistic (although ambiguous) note.
I definitely found learning about Kenneth J Nash’s story helpful in understanding the dark themes of this album. His open-hearted songwriting and unguarded insights into troubled times in his life I’m sure will be an inspiration to many listeners with similar experiences. And the fact that he has come ‘out the other side stronger’ will surely be a source of hope too.