Some songs leave a trace of wonder and joy in your thoughts and feelings, long after the music fades and the record is returned to its shelf. We carry these songs around with us like precious memories, or crinkled photos, tucked inside a wallet. They stay with us for a reason that often defies rationale. Joe Nolan’s newly released single, “Tupelo Honey,” is at once heralding a new voice and sound but yet echoes somehow songs long held so dearly.
It would seem no accident that Nolan chose “Tupelo Honey” as the pre-release single from his soon to be released album, “Drifters.”In tone and spirit, the performance exhibits much of the musical discoveries he has made in the past few years. On last years “Rootsy House Sessions,”Nolan dug deep into the power of his songs, with the barest of elements to transmit their immediacy and emotional depth. While solo finger style guitar and heartfelt singing have been part of Mr. Nolan’s approach since he emerged in 2011, these solo sessions recorded in 2018, had a gracefulness that felt like fertile ground for an artist to develop and grow within. Joe Nolan appears to be at point of departure, a juncture between his earlier approach and the songs he is writing and currently creating.
Van Morrison released his original “Tupelo Honey” for his fifth album, named the same, in 1971. The song and the album enjoyed reasonable success in America but the song went on to become a perennial favorite of his prodigious catalogue. The song was memorable on many fronts, first for its idealistic hope and celebration of newfound love and promise. It also held out the aspiration for some momentum toward a new perspective. “You can’t stop us on the road to freedom/ You can’t stop us ‘ cause our eyes can see.” Was Van Morrison directing his lyric at the woman he loved or something less easily defined, when he sang “She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey/ She’s an angel of the first degree?”
In Nolan’s “Tupelo Honey,” he intones, “I still remember that song we used play/ And all of the words that lead to the last ones you say/ Over and over again the record spins / She’s as sweet as tupelo honey again.” Wrapped in a notably beautiful chord progression, the words unfold, in mysterious conversation as if with someone just beyond the frame. Nolan’s voice is beautifully pure and confident, especially in the surprising chorus falsetto that lifts the song into the unexpected with touching recognition that something is changing.
The guitar playing, somewhat reminiscent of Nick Drake, and the production all lend a sense of restless transition, movement toward some undeclared destination or drifting away from some unseen misfortune. The song hangs in that delicate balance. Whereas Morrison’s song, referenced here, seemed to point toward some hoped for destination, Nolan’s song meanders aimless, less assuredly, spinning “over and over again,” as if the past and the future were simply one continuum.
Joe Nolan has been recognized as a brilliant, rising talent in song writing circles and many have been watching his constant, emerging creativity. He won the Cobalt Prize for songwriting at the 2018 Maple Blues Awards, as well as Blues Artist Of The Year at the Edmonton Music Awards. Furthermore, Nolan was nominated for Roots Solo Artist Of The Year at Breakout West 2019. Awards aside, Nolan has embarked on his own journey to find his own voice and presence in the music business and expects to release “Drifters,” via Fallen Tree Records, in May 2020. Like the song of its namesake, Joe Nolan’s “Tupelo Honey” begs to be put on repeat, until its own unique virtues become clear and your mind takes on a similar journey. The landscape of future dreams and possibilities, lays open before our inner eyes and sometimes, only sometimes, can we indeed see the “road to freedom” and taste the sweetness of the rarest of rare honey.
We’re all struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the livelihoods of musicians and artists are especially impacted right now. We always encourage you to buy music, but we especially encourage you to consider it now. You can purchase “Tupelo Honey” here.
Douglas McLean fell in love with music at a very early age and has worked as a musician and songwriter since his early teens. He has a deep love for the written word and has spent his life in pursuit of language as a means to convey what Van Morrison once called “the inarticulate speech of the heart”. He lives deep in the Almaguin Highlands with his wife and their dog. Douglas is active in local radio, recording, producing and writing, in and around Huntsville, Ontario.
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