— Grammy winner Laurie Lewis
— Grammy winner Kathy Kallick
on KQED’s Forum on May 30th, 2014:
American Nomad: Foot-stompin’ fun (SF Gate)
Hassan: I found a collection of Robert Johnson recordings sitting on a display case. I listened to the CD multiple times and checked out a few books on his life and legacy. … I became fascinated with the folklore and his music. The experience left me with a huge appreciation for the blues, which became the backbone of my taste in music, eventually leading me to listen to rock, folk, bluegrass, country and even pop.
Tony: How did you come up with your band name and what does it mean to you?
Hassan: The name originally stemmed from a long road trip I took in 2009. … I’m also half Bedouin and half European immigrant, which makes me a certifiable American Nomad. In a nutshell, American Nomad is a metaphor for an internal and external journey humanity is on to fuel art, which essentially is our interpretation of reality.
On Country Mile
‘Country Mile’ features six self-penned songs plus one excellently-delivered cover. Writing their utterly relevant songs about real-life experiences, incidents and occasions, American Nomad delivers mouth-watering narratives, accomplished musicianship, layered harmonies and driving hook-laden rhythms. From the strong historical narrative of ‘1849’ through the hauntingly delivered tale of ‘Country Mile’, the laid back enthusiasm in ‘Love Of My Life Tonight’ and the mournful, petitioning reality of ‘Legions Of War’ there’s an unbroken line of alluring songs. As for the covers, I seriously doubt that Ray Lamontagne is in any way disappointed with their view of ‘Big Boned Woman.’
Playing on ‘Country Mile’ are Hassan El-Tayyab (guitar, lead vocals), Ryan Lukas (stand-up bass, harmony vocals), Matt Crimp (violin), Mikiya Matsuda (pedal steel, dobro), Shiloh Parkerson (vocals), Mike Daillak (drums), Patrick Sauber (banjo) Tristan Clarridge (violin, cello), Laurie Lewis (guitar), T Sisters (harmony vocals), Kathy Kallick (harmony vocals) and Spencer Jarret (harmonica).”
On Temple Sunrise
Album opener, ‘Ramona’ has a boogie woogie jiggly beat that is straightforward, unexpurgated and country fried. The lyrics are witty anecdotes about a sailor with a fascination for a girl named (that’s right), Ramona. The middle portion of the song is drenched in fast scatting fiddles. They are also a backdrop for fills throughout the entire song. Lead singer and songwriter, Hassan El-Tayyab’s voice has a soothing timbre with a slight nasal twang that fits squarely into the crosshairs of the jumpy, cool swagger of ‘Ramona.’
‘Worst Best Man’ is a simultaneously hilarious and sad story about a man left at the altar because his bride is swept away by his best man. The story is told in the first person from the point of view of the jilted groom. The song’s beat is similar to ‘Ramona;’ its frenetic swinging country-folk aesthetic will make listeners want to dance, whimper and laugh at the same time! ‘Worst Best Man,’ along with ‘Ramona’ are repeat-players and sure-things for fans of humorous upbeat folk-country ditties. While Hassan doesn’t necessarily have Johnny Cash’s shiny and deep baritone voice, he does have Cash’s deadpan vocal delivery that adds to the band’s overall authenticity as a country band. It also doesn’t hurt that the six-person group takes their craft seriously producing tight arrangements with an effortless delivery that will make listeners feel as if they are sitting in a cozy coffeehouse while listening to this album.
‘Single Mother’s Day’ sounds like an ode to the songwriter’s mother set to a mid tempo beat. It is a heartfelt and cleverly written piece starting out satirically with the epic Dickens intro “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times…”. Like most of the songs off of the album, Ben Andrews artistic and adept fiddle glues together the song’s story like an unspoken narrator.
‘Hole in My Heart’ has a gorgeous harmonizing acapella intro. The song’s refrain is repeated for most of the four-plus minutes: There’s a hole in my heart where the rain comes in. The rhythm guitar swirls with a singular hypnotic chord creating a gospel-like sensation. The lead singer’s voice is meditative as it perpetuates the refrain for the duration of the song; he riffs vocally along with the backing chorus. Another effective part of the arrangement is the bass and percussion stomp pervading most of the song.
If ‘Worst Best Man’ is the exclamation point of Temple Sunrise, album-titled ‘Temple Sunrise’ is an ellipsis; there is much more to come from this San Francisco Bay Area sextet. It’s a mid tempo instrumental that almost acts like a transitional piece. Its intensity is unmatched on the rest of the record and demonstrates the group’s tight arrangement and mathematical musicianship. The periodic crescendos of guitars and percussion are reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 acoustic instrumental classic, ‘Bron-Yr-Aur.’
It will be exciting to see which direction American Nomad takes its next album. Will it take their sound down the darker corridor of ‘Temple Sunrise,’ or will it loiter by the door of upbeat swinging country-style folk? Fans of folk and Americana will not be disappointed by this debut album. Any grooms who have some doubts about their best man’s intention towards their bride-to-be should beware!
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)