PORTER NICKERSON – Bonfire To Ash (Weasel Records WSL-1601)

Bonfire To AshPorter Nickerson are Willy Porter and Carmen Nickerson. Bonfire To Ash is their new album, released on May 5th. I haven’t stopped playing it since it came for review.

Occasionally in life you meet someone that you feel you’ve known forever; listening to Bonfire To Ash was like this – the songs are all newly written but it feels as though they’ve been part of my life for a long time, drawing on something deep inside me.

Pretty good, then: the best album cover I’ve seen this year (see above – the music has the same vivacity) and songs co-written by the duo which keep you playing the CD.

The video below is ‘Loving On Her Mind’ with its universal theme of a couple on the edge of break up but wanting to hold off from the finality of splitting. It begins quietly with the guitar playing gently against a vocal just holding back. As the story develops, the band come in, the two voices join together in the vocal and the growing musical energy matches the increasing tension of the lyric “flirtin’ on the dance floor/hope she doesn’t go too far”. Both characters are treated sympathetically and the lyric moves from descriptive to metaphor “we both know she’s not the cheatin kind/ you’d better show up cos it’s almost closing time/ she’s got lovin on her mind”. In listening, you move easily from being the friend who is narrator, the man to whom the friend is giving the hard love and advice, and the woman looking for the enjoyment she’s known before and wants to recapture…and you’re also listening to a cracking melody and arrangement.

The rest of the album is just as good and touches on the styles of folk, blues, Americana and more – more rocking for the opener ‘Old Red Barn’; the wistfulness of ‘I Need You’; the determination of ‘Living Proof’ which is as good a reflection on time and the family as John Prine’s ‘Hello In There’; ‘In Bloom’ takes you into a quirky Waitsian world “You walk into a room, there’s a buzz in my ear/Up high in a frequency only dogs can hear”; the mood is picked up again in ‘Earthquake’ “you don’t want my whole heart/don’t want the damaged part/you’re no mechanic/ain’t gonna make no repair”; ‘If You Stay’ tears at the heart as the Porter and Nickerson yearningly trade then share the vocals as the relationship in the song breaks and repairs – Steinman’s ‘Lost in the Dark’ matched to Brel’s/McKuen’s ‘If You Go Away’.

I think this is why these brand new songs – beautifully sung and played by Porter Nickerson and their band – feel as though I’ve known them for years. The album is fresh and distinctively theirs but touches on the edges of what I’ve known before.

I’m still playing it.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: willyporter.com carmennickerson.com

‘Loving On Her Mind’: