David Nance & Mowed Sound is Feel-Good Rock ‘n’ Roll That Salutes Its Makers and Its Inspirations
The Nebraska musician's latest shoulders rock music into new phenomena while remaining achingly indebted to its capacity for magic and freedom.Music Reviews David Nance
Back in the 1970s, my uncle used to cook up tunes with his band, Epitaph, in my grandparents’ shed. There is no record of their music; a grainy, minute-long clip of them rehearsing exists on YouTube, but Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” is superimposed over them playing. Despite knowing what I know about my uncle—that he would take apart and rebuild guitars and learn songs by ear—I struggled, for a long time, to imagine what Epitaph really sounded like. Once I hit play on David Nance & Mowed Sound’s “Mock the Hours,” I finally found what I was looking for.
David Nance & Mowed Sound is the latest LP from the Nebraska native Nance, whose penchant for sterling guitar music has turned into a decade-plus career of smoldering rock projects. Since dropping Let’s Argue back in 2012, Nance has become a walking juxtaposition—continuously fine-tuning his musicality into this loose, grainy admixture of garage and country rock. Look to albums like More Than Enough or Negative Boogie and you’ll find visits to the pop realm and detours through thrashing, sludgy noise. Nance’s tableaux is to widen the container for which he puts all of his best and most-mangled sounds; he can rip and roar with the best of ‘em, unafraid and unabashed when it melts down to him shredding on the axe and bending his own Midwestern drawl.
But on Nance’s latest, in comes the Mowed Sound—an ensemble of his best Omaha comrades who, to no surprise, can also shred and bend. Where Nance’s previous records exist in the same continuum as those early ‘90s Crazy Horse albums and MC5, David Nance & Mowed Sound is much more interned alongside Canned Heat and Humble Pie and, even, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Across 10 tracks, Nance and his crew—Kevin Donahue, Dereck Higgins, James Schroeder, Megan Siebe, Skye Junginger, Pearl LoveJoy-Boyd and Sam Lipsett—play it safe and play it well. It’s a left turn from something like his last album, 2020’s Staunch Honey, if only because the tracklist doesn’t break its own back for the sake of just getting loud and getting raw. It’s Nance’s best work yet; who knew all he had to do was ham up his own sublime talents to get there.
David Nance & Mowed Sound kicks off with “Mock the Hours,” a pedal-to-the-metal, country-infused garage ripper. It lights a fire underneath you and never relents, while Nance’s chorus is massive and makes no sense. “Toss out the vultures, usher in the crows,” he sings. “They’re feeding scraps to the winners. The crowd’s on fire and they’re screaming for water.” What a song! It’s like Blind Melon doing the Allman Brothers, and Donahue, Schroeder, Higgins and Lipsett are especially delightful behind Nance—as they move through metallic riffs, heady percussion and soggy vox. “Side Eyed Sam” proves the Mowed Sound can choogle with the best of them, as Nance delivers an unbothered refrain about the titular nemesis who is either a childhood bully or a bar stranger or both. “Rolled me over and spit me out, left me under a dark cloud,” he bemoans. “The tears are falling in my mouth as I sit here drying out. Side Eyed Sam trying to bring me down, Side Eyed Sam lying all over town.” Junginger’s flute playing is a real balm here, coalescing uniquely with Donahue’s snare patters and Nance’s slide guitar.
“Tumbleweed” takes a much more solemn, serendipitous and sparse turn, as LoveJoy-Boyd’s vocals stumble into Nance’s. Their harmonies wash over the latter’s acoustic picking and Schroeder’s Wurlitzer undercurrent. “I wanna leave this town as bad as you,” LoveJoy-Boyd and Nance sing. “Your path is wild and direction free, you left your burs all over me.” Junginger’s flute returns here at the song’s midway mark, acting like a wind-chime brushing against LoveJoy-Boyd’s angelic intonation. “Tumbleweed” lives up to its name as a cowboy lament as hollowed-out as the place Nance and his band want to so badly run away from.
Nance and the Mowed Sound channel Hooker ‘n Heat and the bar-crawl-blues fretboard of ZZ Top on “Cut It Off.” The lyrics are one big run-on thought, as Nance muses on acid trip logic class hypotheticals. “When the dissonance serves and it’s all dissonance, and harmony tastes bad and you’re just a gear,” he groans. “If it’s all a hallway and it ain’t a path.” David Nance & Mowed Sound is nothing if not a record eager to pull a quick-trigger on its own brandishing of instrumental influences without delineating too much density in the storytelling—and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s refreshing to tap into a rock record that revels in its own playground of sounds rather than attempt to be some high-brow pastiche of reflective, resonant vignettes. David Nance & Mowed Sound is feel-good wallpaper, a record so succinct in its own destiny for aux cord favor on long car rides with the windows down.
“Credit Line” boasts a blues lick that sounds like it was recorded on an assembly line, and Nance’s vocals sound like they were run through a kitchen appliance. His and Schroeder’s guitars tangle and trade small solos, while Donahue’s kit rumbles beneath them with delicate precision. If you’re the type of person who loves to hear explosive codas, David Nance & Mowed Sound will not quench your thirst. This record took 18 months to make (some of these songs were written as long ago as 2017), and it sounds like Nance, Schroeder and company were far more interested in edging the songs as much as possible. Each track dissipates just as it’s about to burst, yet the warmth is in the small details. “Credit Line” and “No Taste Tart Enough” emit major jam-band energy without deferring to any sort of improvisation.
The last three chapters of David Nance & Mowed Sound is where the project shines the most, as the band experiments with unorthodox sounds and instruments. “Tergiversation” finds Donahue playing congas, shaker and a water-filled steel flower pot, while Nance hammers away on the Wurlitzer and Juno-6. On “Cure vs Disease,” Donahue plays a fish and Great Grandpa Harry’s piano bench, while Schroeder throws out some tape echo and Nance’s vocals run in tandem with a sputtering slide guitar. Closing ballad “In Orlando” is where Nance ditches the Nixon-era guitar collages for something a bit more contemporary by channeling a mid-1990s alternative singer-songwriter bravado. It’s here, too, where he gets the most-introspective and flaunts some of his sharpest lyricism. “The sky’s still teal, morning still came,” Nance sings. “Only thing different is knowing sorrow by another name.” It’s a touchstone of rock ‘n’ roll to end on a somber note and Nance and the Mowed Sounds, ever the connoiseurs of their own musical ancestry, have no qualms with abiding by tradition.
David Nance & Mowed Sound is a special record made by folks who opted to put their sound to tape after touring together night after night. Nance calls upon his luminaries and dares to continue the conversations they started a half-century ago. These people—Neil Young, Doug Sahm, Exile-era Stones—aren’t godheads to him but pall- and torch-bearers, shouldering rock ‘n’ roll into new phenomena while remaining achingly indebted to its capacity for magic and freedom. David Nance & Mowed Sound is roaring with celebration—for the Midwest, for a group of friends, for dueting guitars, a flute and a snare drum that just won’t quit. This is the kind of music people dream about; the kind of music you might imagine your loved ones made way back when.
Matt Mitchell reports as Paste‘s music editor from their home in Columbus, Ohio.