North Little Rock singer-songwriter Brian Nahlen has a knack for capturing a big moment. Listen to the title cut on his new album, Hiding Behind Blue Skies, as it swells into a hair-raising cascade of layered guitars, drums, horns and voices. "Rise and shine" the chorus repeats like a mantra, propelled by an arrangement of bright, controlled cacophony.
But hang on. You can't hear it yet. The album won't be released until Monday on most streaming platforms, with a CD release to come later. It's worth the wait.
Over the 10 songs on Hiding Behind Blue Skies, the Beatles-loving Nahlen has put together a collection that has the patina of late '70s, early '80s FM rock radio gold. Songs range from jazz-inflected to glam-leaning rock 'n' roll and are strengthened by Nahlen's crafty way with a hook and his insistence on giving them everything they need, whether that be a single guitar accompaniment or a huge wall of sound.
The first track, "Live and Learn," is a bit devious, at least as an introduction to the album. It sounds more like a sketch of a song, with just Nahlen and his acoustic guitar. It's an intimate piece, you can hear his fingertips searching for chords on the strings as he sings, and there's a stretch where he just croons a soft "oooooooo," while picking around on the guitar before getting back to the sparse lyrics.
From that folky gauze comes the full-on electric blast of "Your Spell," where Nahlen and crew blitz through three-and-a-half minutes of quality, swaggering power pop.
"High Society Man," another rocker, is a sneering swipe at the president with an infectious chorus and a wicked keyboard solo from Tommy Priakos, blistering lead guitar from Jason Lee Hale and rousing backing vocals from a murderers' row of local talent including Cheryl CandySoul Humphrey, Genine LaTrice Perez, Barbara Raney and Stephanie Smittle.
Nahlen follows that with "You Fool," which starts quietly before rising to a midtempo stride and seems to be about moving on from a relationship gone bad.
He dips into jazz-rock on "Live Your Life," with another Priakos solo, some glorious saxophone from Dave Williams II and more backing vocals from CandySoul and Perez. It's the kind of song you can imagine going well with candlelight and a bottle of wine on a romantic night at home.
Sticking out the tough times is the subject of the jaunty, stripped down and fun "Gonna Get Better (Learn to Have Faith)," while "I Need You" is reminiscent of John Lennon's "Just Like Starting Over" and is an unabashed ode to true love. The record finishes, appropriately, with "Rise and Shine (Reprise)," which picks up from where the coda of "Hiding Behind Blue Skies" leaves off.
Nahlen is a working musician, you can see him in his trademark blue, round-rimmed glasses gigging regularly in bars and clubs around Central Arkansas, playing covers and his own material. Hiding Behind Blue Skies, the followup to his 2017 album Cicada Moon, was recorded mostly at Wolfman Studios with some work done at Brown Carpet Studio and Better Tomorrow Studio.
It is a lovingly made album and a perfect display of Nahlen's creativity and ambition in the studio in service to his songs.
Style on 11/24/2019
Print Headline: Creativity, ambition bywords for Nahlen