Last December, I was blessed with the opportunity to receive a couple guest passes to the Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited tour in Cleveland (thanks, Jo!). While the night was brilliant all around, one of the aspects of that show that stood out was the unique and powerful image that vocalist Nad Sylvan presented onstage. His bewildering and passionate performance of classic Genesis tracks was simply memorable and powerful to watch. So, I was thrilled to hear that he has a solo album coming out in October, released by InsideOut Records. My curiosity was perked.
Let me put it this way: If you are fan of early Genesis, this new album “Courting the Widow” is a must-have for you. Nad’s voice, as has been pointed out ad nauseam, sounds a bit like some glorious combination of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. In addition, this is an album stuffed full of lush instrumentation (Nad plays guitar and keys on most of the tracks), fantastical lyrics, theatrical style, and proggy structures. Furthermore, Nad is joined by all sorts of noteworthy guests, such as Steve Hackett, Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend, Nick D’Virgilio, Nick Beggs, Roger King, and Roine Stolt. In other words, a “who’s who” of modern retro prog, and all of them are at the top of their game. Obviously, the performances are all top notch.
But I’m here to tell you that “Courting the Widow” doesn’t necessarily strike me as sounding like Genesis, or any 70’s prog band, even. No, aside from the theatrical presentation and a bit of funk, I see this album as bearing different trappings. Indeed, “Courting the Widow” is very much set in the 17th century, as Nad has pointed out himself. Imagine an era of pirates and fantastic ships, fledgling scientific progression and inventions, and lush aristocracy facing impoverished masses. This flowing and evocative style permeates the entire album. Additionally, I feel that this album is also very forward thinking, much like the people of his chosen century. With its interesting structures, noble choruses, and low burning synthy contrasts, this is an album that sounds futuristic and elegantly aged at the same time. Like a fine wine, this album goes down smoothly and with class.
Unlike many albums that might be deemed “classy” or jazzy nowadays, “Courting the Widow” is full of experimentation and ambition. From Nad’s guitar duet with Hackett on “Long, Slow Crash Landing” or the sounds of Nad’s cat purring up against orchestration on “Ship’s Cat”, Nad has plenty of ideas. I definitely feel like he has learned much from Hackett himself, too, as this album screams eclecticism, eccentricity, and a pure understanding of melody.
My favorite track is “Echoes of Ekwabet” followed by the opener “Carry Me Home”. The former is full of futuristic synth played against a retro funky vibe and a great ominous chorus. The latter is a wonderfully theatrical opener full of harmony, lush flute, and feelings of being out in the moonlight. Rare for solo albums, every song on this album just feels so…right. They certainly go down easily. Other favorite tracks include “Courting the Widow”, “To Turn the Other Side”, and the immense “Where the Martyr Carved His Name”.
So, yeah, Nad sounds like Gabriel and Collins, but please don’t relegate him to their little world just yet. He has interesting ideas and knows how to tell a story with well-written lyrics, suspense, mystery, and theatrical trappings. He knows how to combine the best of the old with hints of the new. And he does this all with style and class. “Courting the Widow”, then, is an album that deserves your attention.