Mercury Rising Alone
In this age of auto-tuned vocals and pre-programmed beats, Colin Nagle almost seems like a throwback to an earlier era, but a quick listen to his debut album Mercury Rising Alone proves he is capable of bringing something relevant to the table. Witty and intelligent, the album's 10 tracks are catchy and thought-provoking, still paying dividends even after multiple listens. Influenced by introspective writers like Jackson Browne and Elvis Costello, Nagle sought to make "an honest record," he says, one that displays life as it is "or as it is perceived to be, rather than how I'd like it to be. There's a fascinating dichotomy between 'image' and 'reality' that I wanted to explore on this album." Nagle, who grew up in Hope, RI and is now a sophomore at Georgetown University, knew that in order to explore this idea adequately, he had to tell the complete story, warts and all, and found plenty of inspiration in his personal life. The result is an authentic collection of songs, loosely autobiographical, that takes as many swipes at the shortcomings of the narrator as it does at it's subjects. "If you're going to take the gloves off," he says, "you've got to expect to take a few hits every now and then, too." Nagle embraces this philosophy wholeheartedly in opening himself up for his listeners in songs like "Still Not Speaking," in which he chastises those who are too afraid to take a stand: "You avoid confrontation like the plague/And I treat it like my best friend!" he writes. In addition to writing or co-writing all of the songs on the album, Nagle also produced the record and played and sang all the parts à la Karl Wallinger, with whom he shares an inclination to draw from an eclectic blend of musical sources. A classically trained pianist, Nagle is part Elton John, part Dr. John, with Harrison-esque slide guitar, traces of Steely Dan, Warren Zevon, Jackie Greene, and more. "In many ways, this album is an homage to some of my musical heroes," Nagle says. "The stories are mine, but they're part of a larger musical context that existed way before I came along, and it would be a mistake to ignore that common past." Instead, by embracing this stylistic commonality, Nagle lends added authenticity to his songs by drawing from a shared musical experience. But to say that Mercury Rising Alone is a generic rehash of Music History 101 would be a gross misstatement. While there may be strains of Southern California rock or modal blues, just when you think you know what's coming next, Nagle throws you a curveball. Melodically gifted and with a strong knowledge of harmony, he makes it clear whose song it is even when paying tribute to someone else. Poignant and powerful, lyrical or loud, courteous or cutting, on Mercury Rising Alone, Nagle establishes that he is in charge. "In a way, this album is all about attention," Nagle says, "how we seek it, the ways it affects us, etc. The songs came about because I didn't feel like anybody was paying attention, not just to me, but to each other, and they all deal with attention in some way or other, sometimes musically by toying with conventional expectations, and other times lyrically. In the case of 'Headline Blues,' although it's in the first person, I'm actually asking in a collective voice, tongue-in-cheek, 'why does anybody care what I have to say?'" After listening to Mercury Rising Alone, the answer will be clear.