Some artists need a lot of backing to make a slick harmony feel emotive and tangible to the audience, but for others like singer/songwriter Nathan Stanley, little more than a glowing instrumental backdrop and a naturally sweet vocal are all that it takes to shine like a diamond. Whether he’s crooning to the tune of an awesome melody in “Hallelujah, I’m Ready,” experimenting with electrified grooves in “I Wonder How the Old Folks Are At Home,” straddling a bright strum in “He’ll Always Be Pawpaw to Me” or kicking out emotion the size of a skyscraper in “Stages,” Stanley uses only a few choice tools to spellbind anyone within earshot of his new record Nathan Stanley Live!, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite go-to LPs in 2023.
While some of the songs on Nathan Stanley Live!, like “That’s How I Got to Memphis,” “Sandy Ridge Wind,” “Always on My Mind,” and “Last Date” are more conventional than others (“Why Do We Walk So Blind,” “Tennessee 1949,” “You Win Again”), I think that the diverse makeup of the material on this disc is precisely what gives it a stylistic edge over some of the more streamlined content topping the charts the season. Stanley definitely took the time to make sure that every track here stings with an anti-establishment aesthetic, but at the same time, there’s no accusing him of deliberately trying to repel radio audiences from the grooves of tunes like “Smokey Mountain Memories” and “He’ll Always Be Pawpaw to Me” – there’s simply too much focus on the hook in these songs for that to be the case.
“Dream of a Miner’s Child,” “Stages,” and “Last Date” seem to have been structured more for the grandiosities of a stage environment than they were to simply fill out the tracklist here, but I wouldn’t say that the incarnations we find them in on Nathan Stanley Live! disappoint at all. Nathan Stanley has a natural, unforced warmth that affects the way all of his music is interpreted, and though the aforementioned songs are compelling in this format, something tells me that they blossom into quite the sonic bouquet if given some room to breathe – and expand – in a live performance like this one. With any luck, such a performance will come to a town near me sooner than later, as the momentum behind this all-new release will almost certainly demand it.
I’m getting to know Nathan Stanley’s music a lot better through his latest work in Nathan Stanley Live!, and if I had to judge what his future is going to look like just from the sounds of this album’s sixteen songs, I would say that he isn’t going to be fading from the indie spotlight anytime soon. Stanley steps up to the mic with a powerful magnetism that you just can’t fake in this variety of pop, and if he’s able to continue developing his sound as well as he has in the past decade, I think his will be an oft-referenced moniker in the next decade to come.