“Be true to who you are and what you want to do.” In an exclusive Blues Rock Review interview last summer, Mato Nanji of the South Dakota-based blues group Indigenous (and current Experience Hendrix touring member) offered this sound advice to artists looking to break into the music world. Though Nanji’s words of wisdom are relevant to a wide range of art forms, they are particularly applicable to music that thrives on the hearts and souls of its creators – namely, the blues. A year after their 2013 release Vanishing Americans, Indigenous returned in May with their 10th studio album Time Is Coming.
For their latest project, Indigenous reunited with producer Mike Varney (who recently produced Pinnick Gales Pridgen’s summer record PGP 2), making this their third collaboration. As with PGP 2, Varney allows Time Is Coming the room it needs to breathe, giving Nanji space to stretch his guitar licks out and let the music take its course. Album opener “Grey Skies” moves along at its own pace, providing a catchy chorus with skillful guitar work that reminds listeners of Nanji’s Stevie Ray Vaughan influence. “I’m Telling You” and “So Far Gone” create a similar feel as Nanji contributes headlining guitar tracks and vocals to match.
Nanji gives blues listeners little reason to doubt his guitar mastery on Time Is Coming – his skill is as clear as it was on Vanishing Americans – but while Time Is Coming offers plenty of solid tracks Indigenous fans will be excited to hear, it does not break any new ground. The guitar licks are new, but the general sound and message fall in line with past Indigenous releases. Though more familiar than innovative, Time Is Coming is still a substantial collection that speaks to Nanji’s musical talent and sincere understanding of the blues.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
- Grey Skies
- I’m Telling You
- So Far Gone
The Big Hit
- Grey Skies
Review by Meghan Roos
Blues Bureau International
13 songs – 76 minutes
It has been a busy couple of years for Mato Nanji (his name is pronounced “Ma-TOE NON-gee”). His 2012 debut on the Blues Bureau International label, Indigenous featuring Mato Nanji, marked the beginning of his collaboration with noted producer, impresario and shred guitar fanatic, Mike Varney. The same year saw the release of 3 Skulls And The Truth,featuring Nanji, Los Lobos frontman David Hidalgo, and Luther Dickinson from the North Mississippi Allstars. In 2013, he collaborated with trance-bluesman Otis Taylor on Taylor’s My World Is Gone and released his own Vanishing Americans. In addition to touring his own music, Nanji has also been a member of the annual Experience Hendrix Tour Band since 2002. And now comes the new album from Indigenous featuring Mato Nanji.
Time Is Coming is Nanji’s 10th commercial release and third for Blues Bureau International. It’s also a cracking slice of Hendrix-inspired blues-rock. Born and raised on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, Nanji is a powerful singer and a solid songwriter. 12 of the 13 songs on Time is Coming were written by Nanji and his wife/lyricist, Leah (including three co-writing credits with Mike Varney). The sole cover is a fine version of Bruce McCabe’s “Good At Feelin’ Bad”. The centrepiece of the album, however, is Nanji’s guitar playing. Playing riff-orientated blues rock on a heavily over-driven Stratocaster, often with a wah-wah pedal, it is impossible to ignore the influence of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But as he tears at his guitar strings, bending and shaking them to within an inch of their life, it is clear that Nanji is no mere copyist. He is a genuine virtuoso, playing lyrical and emotion-packed lines, sneaking in between vocal lines, underscoring the melodies, and flying over the solo sections. There is a lot of guitar on this album.
“Good At Feelin’ Bad” is the only song on the album that comes in under the 4 minute 15 second mark. The majority of the songs last around five or six minutes, which gives Nanji plenty of time to stretch out with his solos.
Indigenous is a noteworthy rock group led by a sincere blues man and Native American, Mato Nanji. The band’s music is laced with the problems and harsh realities of reservation life, and Nanji’s Native roots can be found in each song; however, his undeniable, raw talent and respected nature certainly go above and beyond all racial and cultural barriers and boundaries. Vanishing Americans is a fantastic blues album that any guitarist, blues fan, or rock star could commend. Each song is brought together with heavy and powerful guitar riffs akin to those of Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix, while bellowing, raspy vocals turn a talented guitarist’s vision into a relatable song for many, just as any praiseworthy blues album should. Nanji is proud, yet humble; successful, yet blind to the desire for fame. His Native roots remain at the forefront of his daily thought, and the desire to simply make good music, a lesson he learned from his father, makes his appeal a universal one.
Vanishing Americans opens up with “Everything You Need,” a song that erupts with a melodic guitar riff so catchy that it is sure to reel in the listener for the duration of the entire album. Following this track is “Lonely Road,” a track that sings to a broken and heavy heart that must face the path of life companionless – “Now it’s time to say goodbye / Head out on my own / It’s a lonely road.” In contrast, “Don’t Let Them Drive Away” is a reminder to his girl that, despite what others say, he will always stand by her; he doesn’t want her to be overly influenced by the tales of others, driven away by the stories of his past – “I need you here today / Don’t let them drive you away.” “Cold Hearted Woman” has a classic blues feel, calling his lady out on cheating and fooling around, while “Take Me Back” is a groovy, upbeat track woven with apologies and desire. “Can’t Cry No More” and “Now That the Sunshine is Gone” follow suit, lyrical reminders to move on from the past, while perfectly controlled guitar work supports the heartsick yet enlightened message.
“Don’t Be Afraid” and “In My Sights” combine upbeat, unique rock n’ roll rhythms and spirited memorable melodies in two celebratory tracks that embrace and delight in this perfect woman, while “Always With You” and “I’ll Keep Standing” are promising ballads of devotion with unforgettable tunes accompanied by heavy yet tasteful guitar solos. “Dark Days” is an apocalyptic track, referencing that these dark days will continue unless he changes his hindering and suppressing lifestyle and ways. Finally, “Moon Is Rising” is the final and most lengthy track on the album, closing the record with a powerful, rock n’ roll 8-minute tune and leaving the listener with something to hold on to.
Otis Taylor: My World is Gone
Roots music visionary Otis Taylor’s 13th album, My World Is Gone, set for release February 12, 2013 on Telarc, a division of Concord Music Group, is a lightning bolt of musical creativity and social commentary. Its songs crackle with poetic intelligence and a unique, adventurous sound that balances the modern world with echoes of ancient Africa, Appalachia and more.
To call Taylor a cutting edge artist is an understatement. Although his music is based in the blues and folk realm, his meticulously crafted recordings crash the barriers of jazz, rock, funk, Americana and myriad other genres to create a hybrid that Taylor labels “trance blues.” And that signature style serves as a backbone for his frank tales of struggle, freedom, desire, conflict and, of course, love.
The central theme of My World Is Gone was fueled by Taylor’s friend Mato Nanji, the singer-guitarist and cornerstone of the band Indigenous. “Mato inspired the entire direction of this album,” Taylor relates. “We were talking about history backstage at a Jimi Hendrix tribute concert that Mato had just played, and, in reference to his people, the Native American Nakota Nation, he said ‘My world is gone.’ The simplicity and honesty of those four words was so heavy, I knew what I had to write about.”
Taylor had already begun composing new tunes with other themes for his follow-up to 2012’s critically heralded Contraband. Three of those — “Green Apples,” “Gangster and Iztatoz Chauffeur” and “Coming With Crosses” — appear on My World Is Gone.
But inspired by Nanji — who plays electric and acoustic guitars on six tracks and joins Taylor on vocals for several songs — and by his own understanding of Native American culture developed in part through dealing in Indian art as a young man, Taylor embarked on a soul-searching journey into the past and present, and into the psyche, of America’s indigenous people.
“I’ve written songs about slavery, but here in America that’s considered part of the past,” Taylor explains. “What’s happened and what’s happening to Native Americans is still going on. A lot of people forget that. This is a reminder.”
What happens when three blues guitarists meet during a Jimi Hendrix tribute tour and discover that they naturally share musical kinship? They get together as a supergroup, write some songs,and record an album. That is exactly what happened when David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Luther Dickinson of the Black Crowes, and Mato Nanji of Indigenous met on the Experience Hendrix tour. Together the three guitarists created 3 Skulls and the Truth, a hard-driving blues collaboration with plenty to offer.
These guys met on a tour celebrating Jimi Hendrix, so you can pretty well imagine what kind of music these three guitar virtuoso’s would create together. A lot of psychedelic blues mixed with some pure, greasy blues that echoes not only Hendrix but some early ZZ Top. Not surprising as Billy Gibbons loved Hendrix and opened for him as the leader of the Moving Sidewalks in 1968. But I digress.
The group is rounded out by the session rhythym section of drummer Jeff Martin and bassist Steve Evans. The material is all written specifically for this recording with contributions by all three guitarists. A lot of the time three guitarists can sound cluttered together and it does not mesh well. This is not one of those times. The three work with each other while showing off and keeping things tight.
The first track, “Have My Way with You,” features Dickinson’s gritty blues lyrics and delves into a nice instrumental. “All I Know,” is a great blues boogie with lyrics by Nanji and Hidalgo, and nice slide by Dickinson. The highlight may be “The Worldly and the Divine,” which is a great blend of blues, roots, rock, and some psychedelia which teeters on the edge of control, but never goes over it. Range is further demonstrated by the funky tunes, “The Truth Ain’t What It Seems,” and the closer, “Natural Comb.” The former explodes at the start and ends up moving in a myriad of funky breaks by Martin and stays together the whole time. The latter is slow blues that allows the guitarists to solo and work out together while the lyrics maintain a lighthearted feeling to the song.
3 Skulls and the Truth may have started as a one-shot deal by three blues rockers brought together by a love of Jimi Hendrix, but this album demands more. The three guitarists work well together, they do not compete with each other, although there is plenty of soloing. The compositions original for the album are for the most part very strong and benefit greatly from the diversity of the singers. The music is like early 70s ZZ Top crossed with some modern blues. They understand that the music is dynamic and they boogie. The artists know that the blues and boogie are not nostalgic genres, but still dynamic and capable of great things when done right. This album is done right.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
- Have My Way With You
- All I Know
- The Worldy and the Divine
- The Truth Ain’t What It Seems
The Big Hit
- The Worldy and the Divine
Review by Charlie DuMez