Rich and sweet, dark and deep - Nathan's brand of haunting folk comes from just being themselves

Posted by on 30 July 2004

FFWD Weekly July 22,2004 - Preview Article by M.D. Stewart


In Hebrew, Nathan means "giver." In the Old Testament, Nathan is the name of a prophet as well as a son of King David. It can also be a short form of Nathaniel or Jonathan. In this case, Nathan is the collective identity of Keri Metighe (vocals-guitar), Shelley Bilewitch (accordion-guitar-vocals), Devin Latimer (bass) and Daniel Roy (drums-percussion). As band names go, it’s rather vague and non-descriptive – deliberately so, in fact.

"Every time we picked a name with any connotations, we felt like we had to live up to something," Metighe says on the phone from her home in Winnipeg. This simple, understated moniker gave them the latitude to just be themselves and wander wherever their muses took them.

In 2001, their impressive self-produced indie release Stranger introduced Nathan to the world. On the first listen one is struck by the haunting, beguiling melodies and gorgeous harmonies but, like the impressionistic reflections on a deep, dark pool, there is plenty lurking beneath the placid surface. Over the course of 15 tracks, they gently shift from dark, carnival oompah to breathy, folky ballads to sweeping, expansive pop and old-timey backwoods country. There are the careful, thoughtful arrangements with lots of breathing room and space. There are the rich texture and dynamic provided by the versatile and very capable rhythm section and assorted guest contributors who employ tubas, pianos and pedal steel.

Eventually your ears will key into the lyrics. They’re cryptic, non-narrative, impressionistic and kind of, well, morbid. There are overall themes of blood, violence and young lives cut short that permeate many of these sweet melodies and gorgeous harmonies. Stranger has more layers (and more tears) than a Spanish onion and, even after multiple listens, it continues to yield new discoveries.

Ironically, principal songwriter Metighe sounds cheerful and well-adjusted, not to mention excited about her band’s growing success. If you come expecting The Addams Family sisters you may well be disappointed. She’s evasive when it comes to pinning her muse down, describing her writing style as painterly and her lyrical approach as an attempt to figure out those floating thoughts that hang around your head but haven’t quite formed yet. When shallower audience members offer enthusiastic comparisons to Jewel, she graciously smiles and accepts them as well-intentioned compliments, but the band’s broad and varied influences include Vic Chesnutt, Johnny Cash, Mercury Rev and the Eels. When I mention how much I liked the guitar playing on Stranger, Metighe is modest and self-effacing. "Shelley and I are both self-taught, so we just kind of make stuff up," she says.

Nathan is currently residing on Sarah Mclachlan’s Nettwerk label. Their sophomore release, Jimson Weed (named after the poisonous and hallucinogenic plant), is due for release soon. Undoubtedly, critics will once again struggle to find adequate adjectives and metaphors to describe the width and breadth of their unique sound.

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