Could you speak about the United States’ military policy in the Vietnam War for 2 minutes and 20 seconds without pause or repetition? Possibly. For most people, unlikely. I use that time-marker because it’s the length of one of the most famous anti-Vietnam War songs, ‘Fortunate Son’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival, which you’ve probably listened to countless times, either proactively or by osmosis, without even thinking about it.
Hard times are at once both ephemeral and enduring, and the artistic documentation of their impact on our society are a great tradition in producing more permanent, wide-reaching judgements on the responses of our law-makers to times of turbulence than any official documentation could ever attempt to.
There’ll be much to talk about with the pandemic, along with everything else our fraught times have to offer us. On Korean-American singer Nat Myers’ album, Yellow Peril, he takes on the anti-Asian narratives that spread, often driven by those law-makers. “Started in China, lordy, you headed to my backyard, lordy, coming off the boat, headed up across the land, lordy,” he sings on the title track. The track is uncompromising and frenetic, the deep, rumbling command of his voice creating an ominous feel. In fact, this song was worked so hard during recording that producer and Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach’s fingers began to bleed. Still they rumbled on.
Nat refers to himself as a poet, and for good reason. Recorded in Nashville at Auerbach’s home, the 10 track album – driven by blues, dusted by folk – is an incredible reminder that blues is poetry, and it’s as alive and kicking as ever it was. In 2023 we get a lot of ‘bluesy’. We get a lot of ‘blues-inspired’. We rarely get an album that’s truly ‘blues’ from an artist like Nat Myers. He sums it up best himself: “I’m a young Asian cat playing old black music”, he told The Tennessean.
Drawing on influences of blues ghosts like Carl Martin, Charley Patton and Tommy McClennan, he uses a jumping, rolling picking style to draw us right down to the Delta. He deploys his vocals with wisdom, knowing when to keep that hard edge in his voice, like on Yellow Peril, when to soften its coat for an extra bleat of texture with tracks like ‘Heart Like A Scroll’ or ‘Pray For Rain’, and when to just pinch the end of his words for an extra trill like on opening track ’75-71′. It’s hard to pick a centrepiece of the album – the voice, the slide, the themes – but those bygone vocals are truly something to behold.
“I’m all about Yellow Power. I want this record to raise my folks up,” says Nat. It should. Yellow Peril is as important an album as it is entertaining. Timely and progressive, it sits alongside official enquiries into Covid as its own unofficial, but infinitely more human, report into a defining time in our history.
Its reverence to the great traditions of the blues will allow it to live on long after.