A blues-colored rhythm creeps out from the shadows of a staggering melody and cuts through anything that gets in its path in “Window Shopping” of Ralph Nix & the Guilt Birds’ new album, Good Ingredients. In “Call Me Baby,” a mischievous melody is broken up by a slothful implied beat that is as much an agent of evocation as the lyrics themselves are. “Mercy Me” spits fire from a string-clad harmony that is as haunted as the American South is, was, and always shall be, but as gripping as these three songs are, they’re not even a third of what Good Ingredients has in store for all who pick it up this winter.
While thoroughly steeped in Americana, this record from Nix has a versatile crossover appeal that could entice more puritanical blues and country fans toward his band through the provocative twang of “Retold,” the ache of “Falls,” and the stumbling sway of “Marie.” Though they’re coupled with an experimental texture in both their string parts as well as the vocals, I think they’ve got just enough swing to appeal to disenfranchised music enthusiasts looking for something surreal to balance out their favorite playlist right now.
There are a few instances in Good Ingredients where Ralph Nix & the Guilt Birds toy with poetically vulnerable elements, such as in “Retold,” “Window Shopping” and the ripping “Cohay.” The countrified lyricism in “A Town Called Snow” finds an almost too convenient release in the chorus that exploits its dynamic prose for all that it’s worth, and in the groove of “Whiskey Drink’n Women,” the music is more straightforward than the rectified emotions in our lead singer are. Ralph Nix never flinches amidst all of the stylistic transitions here, which is something when we consider just how many of them there are in Good Ingredients.
The emotion is raw and intimate in “Marie,” “The Wish” and the chilly “Falls,” but it never comes across as self-centered or egomaniacal on the part of Nix. The story in Good Ingredients could be interpreted as somewhat operatic on its face, and to some degree, it’s only through the melodic faceting of the words that we’re able to hear the larger story being told without becoming consumed by the postmodernity of its narrative. It’s obvious to me that Nix spent a lot of time ironing out every detail here, and his efforts have produced a poetic tale that needs to be told all the more in these unfortunate times of fractured southern patriotism.
For what I look for in a crossover country album, it’s difficult to top what this singer/songwriter and his squad have created in Good Ingredients. It’s colorful but unvarnished, decadently arranged but devoid of excesses, and most importantly, it’s a hearty taste of an evolved sound from a player that has grown a lot since first getting our attention beside the Catfish gospel nearly nine years ago. I know that it’s made me want to explore his back catalog a bit more than I already had, and I have a feeling that other relative newcomers to Ralph Nix’s music will share my sentiments.