Nathan Bell chronicles everything from everyday life to social injustice in new CD

Nathan Bell chronicles everything from everyday life to social injustice in new CD

June 30th, 2017 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

If you go

› What: Nathan Bell with Magic Birds

› When: 8 p.m. Saturday

› Where: Barking Legs Theater, 1307 Dodds Ave.

› Admission: $15

› Phone: 423-624-5347


Listeners to Nathan Bell's new CD "Love>Fear (48 Hours in Traitorland)" should have no trouble realizing that it was put together just a few weeks after the recent presidential election. Even new listeners to his music will discover a singer/songwriter who has strong opinions on what he perceives to be political, environmental and social injustices.

They also will discover a writer who is much more interested in telling the stories of the real people he meets and knows, the ones impacted by said injustices, than he is in sharing his opinions or preaching to the converted.

"I like to chronicle, to look out at what is going on and write about it," he says during a recent interview at a downtown coffee shop.

Bell, 57, is a Signal Mountain resident whose music is known and respected around the world. You can hear for yourself live on Saturday at Barking Legs Theater.

Rolling Stone calls him "one of those increasingly rare finds." The Bitter Southerner calls him "The Woody Guthrie we need in the age of globalization."

Which is quite an accomplishment for a guy who walked away from a fairly successful music career in the '90s to raise a family and work as a manager with BellSouth and then AT&T. For him, being there for his wife and kids was his new career, and he put his guitar away and never gave writing or performing another thought.

"The most impressive thing you could do in my family was get a job and work hard," he says.

He learned that, as well as a love for literature and writing, from his father, Marvin, a poet and professor. Truth be told, he would like to be a journalist or an author akin to Hemingway or Steinbeck.

He respects how they could make a statement by telling stories rather than climbing on a soapbox and preaching.

"Most of political writing, or what they call it today, is mostly broad statements. Guys who stand onstage and say, 'We should all love each other." I wanted these to be stories."

What critics are saying

› “There’s a reliability to a new album from Nathan Bell — it will always cut deep and hard, and “Love>Fear (48 Hours in Traitorland)” delivers as expected. The man writes songs designed to make their mark, and he never fails. — Folkwords UK - 2017

› “Nathan Bell is one of the best songwriters you’ve never heard of. His songs tell you something about yourself that you didn’t know was in you.” — Americana Music Show Best of 2016

› “There’s an incredible amount of eloquence in his ‘plain’ poetry,’ along with truth that burns like a welding torch, pounds like a hammer and beats with the resilience of the human heart.” — No Depression Magazine



The basic premise of the album stemmed from his long-held fascination with the moment track-and-field medalists John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their black-gloved fists in support of the Black Power movement during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the 1968 Olympics.

"I remember seeing that and going to my father saying, "'That's going to cause some trouble, isn't it?'" Bell says.

"Raise Your Fist" is a song on the new CD, but it was written several years ago. "So Damn Pretty," "MIA (Bill in '75)," "Hard Weather," "Traitorland (Rules for Living In) and "The Big Old American Dream" are the other older songs that were included. He says of the latter, "It might be my favorite song that I've ever written.

They are songs about a man driven to stealing to pay for medicine, a farmer who loses his land to the bank, the damages caused by mining and how a woman can be judged only on her looks.

"Traitorland" was originally written after 9/11.

"I thought the American response to 9/11 was disturbing," he says. "I thought we gave up a lot of rights."

A good athlete, Bell says he could have probably made a living for awhile playing soccer early in life, and he became a scratch golfer after entering the corporate world because that's the game you play in that world, he says. It just so happens he is also a very good picker.

"I wanted to be a writer," he says. "I just didn't know it would also involve a guitar."

After retiring a few years ago, Bell picked up his guitar again, at the urging of his wife, and resumed writing. He has since released four albums of powerful songs that chronicle everyday life. "Love>Fear (48 Hours in Traitorland)" was originally going to be an album of love songs, Nathan Bell style.

"I had finally gathered 13 love songs. It took me all of these 35 years to get them," he says. "They are my versions of love songs to family and even one to the kitchen."

Then the election happened, and he realized he had songs that spoke to the current environment in America. He felt compelled to write a few more.

"I started thinking about guys like Woody Guthrie, [Bob] Dylan and even Harry Chapin. They knew the moment in time was worth chronicling, and I wanted to do it the way I always do things."

He recorded the 11 songs in his home studio accompanying the lyrics with just a guitar and harmonica. He says he even scaled back a little bit on his guitar playing to let the lyrics stand out more.

"That's my comfort level when writing lyrically based stuff," he says. "The more you get out of the way of the lyrics, the better the stuff works. There is not as much guitar as I can do. It's a little simpler. I wanted something I could hang the lyrics on."

Bell says that while he has strong feelings on some topics, he wants the songs to mean something to the listener. And he knows people interpret words, whether written in a news story or a song, differently.

"No matter how factually and carefully and tightly you write, the narrative's gone the minute you put it on the page. You get things back from [the reader], and you can't believe they read the same article. With songs, it's even more so."

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.