Nat Baldwin – Reviewed

Jon Davies finds a Dirty Projector revelling in his solo status at Leaf, winning new fans in the process…

A couple years ago I was an avid fan of the Dirty Projectors, I still am, but back then it was my obsession. I saw them first back when I was leaving sixth form with a friend (who hated them) in an obscure downstairs café, then in the old Korova to about 7 people (me and my ex-housemate were the only two to buy advance tickets), and since followed them on their rise to sold out shows in Manchester and a recital of their epic glitch-opera The Getty Address at the Barbican. Combining an obsession with the band and routine Internet trawling I managed to scout out all relating projects, one included the work of their bass player Nat Baldwin. He himself has crazy pedigree: taught by free-jazz saxophonist Anthony Braxton; close ties with East Coast avant-metallers Extra Life, as well as lending low end to Vampire Weekend and Department of Eagles. The first of Nat’s records I fell in love with was Most Valuable Player, a collection of folk-jazz offerings in the shape of a full band. His latest record, People Changes, is more stripped down, relying on his double bass and dulcet voice drifting between upper male registers and falsetto.

There are two points of departure to describe the music; first is in relation to Dirty Projectors, where you could say it’s less baroque, more heartfelt, and softer, with fewer adenoidal vocal punctuations. This is countered by Nat’s tendency to work stranger textures in through his double bass. The other angle would be to compare him to experimental pop legend Arthur Russell. Both share beautifully tender vocal chords, and bowed rather than plucked techniques for their instruments (Russell played the cello, but the results are similar). Nat Baldwin welcomes this influence by opening up his set with a cover of Russell’s A Little Lost, calming a typical Saturday drinking crowd from the usual bustle into chilled conversation followed by warming applause. Baldwin then worked solemnly through a number of his songs from his last album, with the stirring Lifted and the menacing chords of Weights gaining the most rapturous reception. He also managed to work in some particularly strained harmonics and bridge scrapings into a number of codas without anyone wincing. His set finished, after the obligatory ‘one more!’ shouts with Let My Spirit Rise, another cover made his own; the double bass adding soft earthly vibrations offset by fluttering falsetto, some words barely escaping breath, lending these that do added gravity.

It was potentially hard work for Nat Baldwin to play to this Leaf audience split down the middle between those here to see him and those for an after work drink, but by the end of the set he had truly won over many people expecting merely an open mic night. He may dance around the line of softly, softly folk but there’s enough substance in Nat Baldwin’s earnest songwriting to warrant exploration into his records then to his musical genealogy as to what makes his music so bold.

Jon Davies

Image courtesy Thom Isom

Posted on 01/02/2012 by thedoublenegative