Americana Project to present singer/songwriter Nathaniel Talbot on Jan. 11

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By Bob Hemenger
Special to The PREVIEW

The Americana Project class at Pagosa Springs High School is proud to present singer/songwriter Nathaniel Talbot as the special guest in our concert series.

The Americana Project is an elective class that has been offered for the past seven years. Twice a year, a professional musician is brought in to work with the students on songwriting and performance. The experience provides them with a connection to what it takes to be a professional, touring musician and brings excitement and inspiration to the class.

Students also open the concert and join the artist for the closing song. This school year, the class is expanding this program to add this winter special guest concert.

Talbot is a powerful natural force with a warm voice reminiscent of James Taylor. He writes thought provoking, powerful lyrics and plays the guitar in a way that is both unique and masterful. His connection with the land and nature adds a depth to his music and performance that people in Pagosa Springs will appreciate.

It’s a busy life for Talbot, who runs an organic vegetable farm on Whidbey Island, in Washington state’s Puget Sound.

“I work on the farm 60 hours a week between March and October. An average week during the busy season has two harvest days, one market day and three days of weeding, planting and everything else,” he explained.

In addition to farming, he’s just released his fourth album, “Swamp Rose and Honeysuckle Vine” on Portland, Ore.’s, Fluff and Gravy Records. The album marks the harvest of a different sort for Talbot, who has also spent over two decades tending to the crafts of songwriting and guitar playing. His songs on the new album are intimately tied to the lush farmland and windswept vistas of Whidbey Island, deeply rooted in the earth and American traditionalism.

“The folk music and big trees that surrounded my childhood were hugely impactful,” said Talbot of his upbringing just a few hundred miles south of his farm in the foothills just southeast of Portland.

“I spent most of my free time running around the forest and making up adventures with the neighbor kids,” he said. “The natural setting certainly imprinted on my sense of self and how I make music.”

Raised on the music of Paul Simon and Eric Clapton, Talbot began playing music at a young age, learning piano at 7 and turning to guitar around 13, later steeping himself in the sounds of local artists like Soundgarden, Elliot Smith and Kelly Joe Phelps.

Produced by Talbot, along with Rob Stroup, “Swamp Rose and Honeysuckle Vine” marks a big step forward in Talbot’s evolution as a lyricist and a storyteller.

“If you listen to my previous albums, there’s a lot of songs of logging, botany and even soil erosion, photosynthesis and the deep beauty of hiking at night,” said Talbot. But, upon becoming a farmer, he began to dig deep into our most human trait — storytelling. “There was all of a sudden all this raw, untapped material to write about. Stuff that people used to sing about — stories about farmers wrestling the landscape, loving it, abusing it, old tractors getting stuck in the wetland, kids leaving the farm, soil blowing away in the wind, long hard days of work and the amazing sense of reward and connection with the land.”

“Challenging what folk music is capable of,” says Seattle Weekly, “Talbot’s powerful, uplifting voice harnesses a country twang complemented by lush acoustic finger-picking and a violin that feels like it was birthed next to a babbling brook in the mountains.”

Channeling the lyrical prowess and gritty charm of Anais Mitchell on tracks like “As the Way,” and the concrete characterization in the work of Elliott Smith on tracks like “Able Man,” Talbot stands on the shoulders of generations of folk musicians and Americana singer/songwriters before him. His approach to music feels like that of someone who treats it as a craft handed down and honed, like the tilling of soil or the carving of wood.

Talbot’s music has dirt under its fingernails, the product of decades of hard work and crafting — retuning, replanting and retelling. The result is true American roots music, combining the soulful edge of tradition with the Pacific Northwest’s legacy of freedom and innovation.

The show starts at 7 p.m. at Pagosa Springs High School on Wednesday, Jan. 11.

The cost is $10 (12 and under are free). Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Students from the Americana Project class will open the show.

Please mark your calendars and help spread the news. This is going to be a great night of music and community.