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Quintin Nadig - Slip Songs

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Artist: Quintin Nadig

Album: Slip Songs

Label: Grey Hat

Review date: Feb. 11, 2006

Released in 2003, Quintin Nadig’s debut was a cycle of brittle, melancholy songs that avoided the solipsistic pitfalls of so much singer-songwriter fare by mapping the emotional geography of place. Nadig, an active member of the Coast Guard, threaded themes of lost love and spent childhood into the fabric of locations he’d been stationed – Charleston, South Carolina and Alaska. With his latest effort, Slip Songs, Nadig moves away from grey coastlines, floating boat docks, and fog-enshrouded canneries of Anchor Songs to the gothic hyper-realities of Tennessee Williams’ Deep South. Inspired by Battle of Angels – a ripe first stab at the themes and symbols that would haunt Williams for decades – Slip Songs conjures many of the same emotions of Nadig’s previous record, but in a more abstract, impressionistic fashion.

Like Battle of Angels, Slip Songs begins with a prologue, but the discordance between the two is an early indication that the connections between record and play are tenuous and indirect. Williams’ work begins with a flurry of wagging tongues, in a dingy mercantile littered with artifacts from an unknown cataclysm. Nadig’s prologue is a nifty bit of guitar plucking, over banjo notes that unfurl languidly into what could easily be an outtake from an old Simon Joyner record (Nadig’s and Joyner’s voices share a wonderfully weary affinity). As we drift through amorphous snatches of songs – often no longer than a minute or two – we begin to catch glimpses of Williams’ characters and settings. “The Drifter” is a quietly brooding evocation of Val (“Been all over where the Earth pulls me / Wrote it all down on loose sheets of paper”), while “Moon Lake” – one of the album’s prettiest and most idyllic tracks – adorns a plucky melodic figure with tender female harmony and ornate flamenco flourishes, like a subtle whiff of dogwood blossoms. The spare, aching piano of “I Swan” adopts the longing, nervous gaze of Myra (“You move across the dry goods store like steel guitars / I watch you from the sides of my eyes”), as does the spectral, whispering “Quietly Among the Shoe Boxes.”

Even before introducing his major characters, Tennessee Williams tips his hand that his play will end tragically. There’s a funereal gauze that hangs over Val’s and Myra’s words and actions – a reminder of death that’s persistent and foreboding, like the rapping of Myra’s husband on the second story floorboards. It’s this element that Nadig seems most intent on exploring in Slip Songs – his instrumental medley “The Lake / The Rivers / The View From the Orchard” is full of fizzling firecracker notes cast against a humid sky of guitar tones, ironed flat and indifferent. There are places where the record is overly lugubrious (“The Girl From the Orchard”), but Nadig mostly avoids this trap by shifting styles and approaches – Slip Songs is nearly finished by the time he pulls out a robust bit of slide guitar (“The Hounds”) that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Ry Cooder soundtrack.

Ultimately, Slip Songs is confined to a specific swath of Williams’ play. Nadig’s melancholy songs steer clear of many elements that give Battle of Angels its heft – the chattering chorus of jealous women, the sexual danger of the ubiquitous snakeskin jacket, the eerie tinkling of the Conjure Man’s hawk bone necklace. And while Nadig’s loose approach to the text doesn’t obligate him to address these elements, his ability to beautifully evoke the feelings of Williams’ major characters and their rustic surroundings makes me wish that he’d tried. Still, Slip Songs is elegant and assured in its own right. Nadig’s ability to say just enough – to communicate complex sentiments with just a light dusting of notes, a fragmented lyric – is not unlike what we hope for from great theatre.

By Nathan Hogan

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