Nathan Bowles 'Whole And Cloven' - ALBUM REVIEW

Nathan Bowles ‘Whole And Cloven’ – ALBUM REVIEW

If banjos aren’t your thing, then perhaps it’s best to steer clear of this one. But if you’re down for some honest-to-goodness mountain-bred banjo-picking, you might find this mostly-instrumental album a pleasant surprise.

Nathan Bowles, a North Carolina multi-instrumentalist with a king’s reputation as a session musician, has a background in both traditional old-time music and experimental ambient drone. Here, in his third solo release, these influences combine in what can only be described as the hypnotic soundtrack to a kaleidoscopic Appalachian dream sequence.

‘Whole and Cloven’ is built around Bowles’ mastery of the clawhammer banjo technique. But if that conjures up images of breakneck-speed reels and Trans Ams hustling moonshine down to Texarkana, then you’ve got the wrong idea. Bowles forgoes the Duelling Banjos mould in favour of a far more peaceful take on this oft-stereotyped instrument. Bowles has an obsessive ear for sonic expression and a perfectionist’s soul. He’s crafted an album where every note-pluck, neck-slide, harmonic and vibration is a carefully considered component. Ten minute slow-time odyssey ‘I Miss My Dog’ shows just how much can be achieved with a virtuosic banjo-man, a set of good recording mics, and a keen eye for detail. These are soundscapes you can quite literally get lost in.

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

That being said, it’s not all about the banjo. ‘Chiaroscuro’ is a haunting piano instrumental that demonstrates Bowles’ formidable skill as an ivory-tinkerer. It’s a bizarre, but interesting, addition to the album. ‘Gadarene Fugue’ and ‘Burnt Ends Rag’ showcase Bowles’ percussionist pedigree (he considers himself a drummer first and foremost) with some unorthodox beat-keeping approaches.

Jeffrey Cain cover ‘Moonshine is the Sunshine’, the only track where Bowles sings, is a highlight too. Bowles is no Brad Paisley, but his howlin’ home-grown vocals suit the nonsense nursery rhyme lyrics like a checked flannel shirt suits a bearded mountain man. They’re also mixed quieter than you might expect a voice track to be – the vocals aren’t the centrepiece, they’re just another colour on the canvas.

Bowles’ website describes ‘Whole and Cloven’ as ‘a stoic meditation on absence, loss, and fragmentation.’ That’s as fair a description as you’ll find of this bizarre treat. The tracks are freeform, flowing, sometimes melancholic but always profoundly beautiful. This is music to listen to whilst you’re floating on a pristine mountain lake. Where the water may be cold, but the scenery is breath-taking.

‘Whole and Cloven’ is available now on Paradise of Bachelors Records

This Nathan Bowles article was written by Matt George Lovett, a GIGsoup contributor

Nathan Bowles 'Whole And Cloven' - ALBUM REVIEW
Nathan Bowles ‘Whole And Cloven’
Want the latest music news, opinions and reviews?Subscribe to the GIGsoup newsletter today

Explore the latest music from the comfort of your own inbox

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!