Precarious times demand special songs to navigate an unstable landscape with a cloudy horizon. The multilayered experience of music allows truth and comfort to ease past the natural hardening that occurs with even slightly sensitive souls in such eras, the mixture of words, melody and sound finding where one is cracked and aching, open and exposed in true reality. It’s a help that hurts but like building muscle or learning new skills, the end result makes one appreciate and perhaps even crave substantive distress. Nathan Moore’s latest patriotic salvo Goodbye America is this sort of positive pressure, a balm that stings a little but might just get you back on your feet dancing in the bucket brigade as Rome blazes away.
Looking down Main Street (and Wall Street too), Moore begins by observing, “Nobody’s plotting the revolution/ Nobody’s dancing to the Great Heartbeat/ Except You and I.” He’s reaching out to his brothers and sisters (while reminding us we are ALL brothers and sisters), consciously bridging the widening gulf between human beings to remind us in the midst of friction filled upheaval and nasty shouting that not everything is scorched earth and clenched fists. Like spiritual ancestor Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, there’s a mad skip and wild grin threading through Moore’s examination of Modern Man’s survivalist mentality that notes “a hero is just a man in his underwear.” This song cycle is a battle cry to lay one’s self bare and embrace vulnerability, to accept our inherent fragility and impermanence instead of throwing up walls against our fears. Time and tide will have their way but we can choose how we spend our days instead of just going along for the ride.
Instead of choosing sides, Goodbye America says, “We’re all in this together. So what do we do now?” While Moore resists being programmatic, he uses his keen observational skills and prestidigitator’s dexterity to gently usher one through today’s weariness and rage towards bemusement over the nonsense and conflict and ultimately to a place where love is valued far above gold and power. In this way, it’s a most American and even Christian album without all the trappings of politics and religion, the better essence of these two powerful philosophical tracks distilled. That he does so with his most subtly pleasingly, judiciously fleshed-out musical settings thus far in his career is an added bonus. Moore’s sound is moving closer to Crowded House/Neil Finn and Rufus Wainwright territory than his folkie past. He’s a troubadour in the same vein as Tim Buckley, Fred Neil, and Richard Thompson, where the production adds interesting texture to barrelhouse bones.
Goodbye America is an invitation to step past our loathing and self-loathing to avoid a collective fate where “it only takes one to blow it all away.” Alone, disconnected, and terribly, terribly frightened is how too many people live in 2016. Those feelings aren’t false but there’s another way to see the world and Moore’s latest offering points us in that direction in an hour where we need all the positive navigation and potluck thinking we can get.