Folks interested in musical Alaskana, or who just enjoy humorous songs, should heartily welcome the new recording "Genetically Enhanced," by Lou Nathanson. This collection of all-original songs, recorded locally, is the first studio work for the long-time Alaskan. Most are whimsical tales inspired by seven years of Bush living, plus a few poignant pieces. And they're all backed up by a multitude of some of the community's most talented musicians.
Examples? Try "Mosquito Showdown," a great western ballad. Gary Sloan's harmonica, teamed with cowboy-style electric guitar, helps set the perfect mood. Or listen to "Man's Best Friend," a lively dog-mushing tale. There's some great instrumentation in this piece, including some of Joe Page's mandolin work. I was puzzled, thought why I had to be offered the chance to "cook up a stew of man's best friend" with every chorus. You like bluegrass? "Trapline Chatter" has that feel, with more of Page's mando, and Ken Terry picking five-string banjo. This song is about Alaska's popular Bush radio program of the same name, and portrays a sampling of the radio messages that Nathanson describes as "like reading all your friends' mail." Then there's country western, as in "Slippery When Wet." Greg Booth's pedal steel is the best around. It's great traveling music.
Of course, no collection of Alaska tunes would be quite complete without an ode to duct tape. "Duct Tape Madrigal in C major" features some outstanding vocals, including Nathanson, Suzy Crosby and Mike Campbell's superb baritone. It's sung in a beautifully harmonized round -- a fitting tribute to the great Alaska fix-all. And I especially enjoy the title cut, which has an enticing melody to go with its twisted message. I was at first concerned at the tameness of the first two or three cuts, wondering that, because the rhythms and vocals sounded so similar, the entire package would be the same. But the remaining cuts grew more varied, energetic and interesting. It's a "something for everyone" recording.
What really makes "Genetically Enhanced" successful is the instrumental support. Besides those already mentioned, there's Shonti Elder on fiddle, Helen Howarth on cello, Marge Ford on accordion in "A Nice Place to Visit" (a charmingly funny waltz), and lots of others. Backup vocals made a big difference, too, adding dynamics to Nathanson's lead vocals. I personally would have liked to hear even more of other singers, such as Robin Hopper.
Listening to these songs, I couldn't help but be reminded of the Red Clay Ramblers, or Mark Graham, whose songs have the same feel -- clever lyrics with surprises and a daring ability to poke fun at one's self. Add instrumental and vocal variety and talent, and you have, as with "Genetically Enhanced," a genuine winner.
© 1994 Anchorage Daily News, (1001 Northway Dr, PO Box
149001, Anchorage AK 99514-9001, 907-257-4200)
Used by permission (a sincere thanks to Kim Severson).
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