A hirsute bear of a man in road-worn denim, Israel Nash looks like he could have been right at home at some mythical star-studded late 60s jam sessions at the Catskill Mountains around the time the Woodstock Festival rocked that region.
The Texas-based songwriter’s appearance suggests he belongs to the group of musicians who continue to mine the rich seam of America music where rock ’n’ roll, country, folk and soul intertwine, with the ghost of the likes of Neil Young and The Band lingering over the retro-minded scene like an inescapable Bat-signal. There’s little in the 38-year old’s music so far to dissuade such an assumption.
However, Nash’s more recent albums have elevated him far above the crushing predictability of a textbook-studying classicist. Both 2015’s dreamily drifting Silver Season (cruelly underrepresented in tonight’s set) and last year’s superbly spirited Lifted nod towards the sumptuously orchestrated, laidback reveries of Laurel Canyon acolyte Jonathan Wilson. Tonight, with Nash frequently stomping the Brudenell stage in the style of a horse about to be unbolted, the presentation has more in common with the gritty country-funk grooves of Hiss Golden Messenger, another like-minded contemporary.
Backed by an excellent trio, with Eric Swanson’s sparkling pedal steel doing the heavy lifting usually reserved for lead guitar, Nash proceeds to uncover the raw heart beating underneath the (admittedly gorgeous) generously administered decorations of his recent albums. The energised opening trio lifted off Lifted is particularly impressive, with the band giving every impression of inching ever close to actual physical levitation as the groove becomes more vibrantly unstoppable, and Nash positively roaring where his vocals on the albums tend towards an angelic higher register.
Next to this, the folkier offerings and Crazy Horse crunch from 2013’s Rain Plans – some of it delivered without the rhythm section – can’t help but seem a bit too house trained. Even so, with a cover of Radiohead’s No Surprises (sung as a duet with supporting act Joana Serrat) proving that Nash’s musical imagination doesn’t stop at 1972 and a gospel-hued, rousing take of recent single Rolling On to close the proceedings, the only possible complaint about this triumphant set from a vastly underappreciated talent is its meagre 80-minute duration.