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Nathaniel Bellows turns terrible tragedy into unadorned folk insight on “Split Lip” (BPM Premiere)

There are only a few crags and crevasses of the artistic realm which New York City artist Nathaniel Bellows hasn’t explored, using broad brushstrokes of folk and pop to navigate complex emotional landscapes. As a published poet, novelist, visual artist, and musician, he has found avenues to express both external and internal stimuli in ways few others have ever imagined. He is a storyteller whose words reveal innately personal stories documenting the ways in which we bind ourselves together and those that tear us apart.  

His two previous records, 2016’s The Old Illusions and 2018’s Swan and Wolf, were mostly self-produced, but for his upcoming album Three, he realized that he was going to need some help in crafting the intricacies of these new songs. And so he turned to producer Malcolm Burn, whose work with Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and others gave him the experience necessary to bring a much broader rhythmic perspective to Bellows’ music. These eight new tracks were recorded in Burn’s home studio in Kingston, NY this past June, just as the COVID pandemic was surging across the country. The emotions and memories rippling through this record are raw and purposefully unobstructed, touching on loss, love, and the ways we cope with grief.

“My new album is titled Three, but not only because it is my third record,” he explains. “I wrote these songs over the last three years, when my father’s health began to rapidly diminish and degrade—and I continued to write after he died, last March, the third month of 2019. Standing at his gravesite with my siblings, I saw us as a sequence, a set: my parents had three children, and I am the youngest, the third.”

He continues: “The 8 songs on Three represent a deep, personal exploration of protracted mourning and grief—my father’s illness, his death, and its aftermath; and now in the present day: a new extension of hardship, sorrow, and uncertainty, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”

On his new single, “Split Lip”, Bellows uses his remarkable way with words to conjure mournful feelings filled with a desperate need for affection and belonging — all the while finally seeing the terrible impact that the death of his father was having on him. An acoustic guitar is manoeuvred and wrung out, while delicate drops of piano fall like soft rain, allowing each lyric to possess both a sting and an insight. There’s something so beautiful in all this tragedy, something that can’t be easily defined or approached. But it is there, a ghost waiting for us to understand and to embrace this wild world and all its fractures and grace.

Nathaniel Bellows’ new self-released record Three is due out December 11. Keep track of Bellows on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.