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October 23rd, 2008

Nimrod Workman: I Want To Go Where Things Are Beautiful

“It’s amazing that Nimrod learned and retained these songs, that he can compose on the spot, that he survived 40 years of mining life and many more years than that of tobacco and alcohol use, and that he remains at the age of 92 vital and able to talk and sing with strong conviction. He is a treasure.” – Mike Seeger, 1987

The voice is the vehicle through which all singer-songwriters separate themselves from the rest. Through its pitch and its timbre, through its imperfections and its quaver, the voice builds a bridge between the singer and his listener.  It’s the human element that any folk fan craves, because the folk fan craves narrative (both in the lyrics and in the musician himself). Many talented musicians have mastered their instrument only to collapse, to recede in the undertow of their own fluency. Because we’ve all heard virtuoso musicians, and gawked, and let our lips turn upright and exalt the wonder of it all. They’re great. A virtuoso plays their instrument with unparalleled mastery, the fruits of weeks spent locked in a bedroom.  We watch with a passing fascination: awed, yes, but apt to amble.

From a strictly auditory standpoint, Nimrod Workman’s voice is difficult to listen to. There’s no sugar coating that fact. It’s imperfection personified, but that’s the point. By listening to it, you’re not going to be transported anywhere but directly into the grizzled, pain-stricken life of the man singing. Comprised of strictly acapella folk ballads and some ramshackle originals, I Want to Go Where Things Are Beautiful is part musical odyssey and part history lesson.  It is, to my ears, an album of vicarious pain or, more accurately, its ability to give me some. But I crave that connection, however unsettling. In a disconnected paint-by-data world I long for the ability to understand  someone else’s reality. I want to go where things are beautiful too.

The record, being released November 18, is Drag City’s first release in conjunction with Twos & Fews and was recorded by Mike Seeger in 1987. Nimrod died at the age of 99 in 1994.

[ download ] Rock the Cradle Alone

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