Perhaps more than some of us, musicians are a product of their own changing environment. Israel Nash is no exception. A move from New York to Dripping Springs, Texas, in 2013 touched off a sonic epiphany for Nash, who reeled off a trio of albums immersed in the wide-open Hill Country mystique and the natural sounds and rhythms of life off the grid.
Just steps from his home, he built his own studio, Plum Creek Sound, with a killer view of the rugged countryside. When he’s not outside on the deck taking in the scenery, he’s churning out songs—even between rolling power outages in this winter’s supernatural chill.
“We had blackouts on and off for three days,” says Nash. “Then we had no power at all for three more days.”
As it turns out, Nash’s latest batch of music is not the product of his most recent creative spurt. He’s saving those songs for a later date. But the self-released Topaz (co-produced by Black Pumas’ Adrian Quesada) is one hell of placeholder. Nash’s music has become an increasingly effortless collision of classic rock, psychedelia, folk and Americana, and Topaz adds Memphis to the mix—complete with horns and soulful female backup singers. You won’t hear any of that on this stripped-down performance of “Dividing Lines,” captured at Plum Creek with just Nash on piano. But it does nail the plain-spoken essence of the song’s plea for a more humane approximation of sanity in our fractured country.
“I’d been working on that song for a couple of years,” says Nash. “I had the chorus, but I couldn’t get the verse, so I just dropped it. But it just kept sticking around, and I finally hit it on the verse. Sometimes, it’s a different instrument that gets you going. On the piano, it just made sense.”
After a string of albums that downplay his vocal range and emotive depth, Nash lets loose on “Dividing Lines.”
“I wanted the ending to be chaotic to reflect all the divisions we have in our country right now,” he says. “That failure to see our similarities is so sad.”