He wowed us back in 2014 with Sins I Have Sown, and now in his latest record Good Ingredients, Ralph Nix – this time with a band called the Guilt Birds – is back and banging out his best music in years. An unintentionally conceptual album by design, Good Ingredients features a litany of majestic melodies in ten tracks that pack a mighty punch when played in a single sitting or a casual listening session the same. If you had thought that you’d heard the very best of what their eponymous frontman could do before now, you’d better think again, because as it turns out Ralph Nix & the Guilt Birds are just getting started on a new chapter in Americana’s thrilling history.
Nix’s vocal is a lot less filtered here than it was in Sins I Have Sown, recorded with the Catfish Gospel, but there’s still a little fuzz injected into his croon on “Mercy Me,” “Call Me Baby” and “Window Shopping” that helps to emphasize the dose of danger within his lyrical delivery. “The Wish” is probably the most straightforward serenade that he gives on Good Ingredients, and it rounds out the tracklist quite nicely in the wake of the supremely surreal “Falls.” There’s plenty of bombast in the arrangement of the songs, but it never becomes a bigger element in the album than the content of the music itself.
The guitar parts are telling a story of their own in “Cohay” and “Stella,” and I would even describe it as a subplot to the main narrative in Good Ingredients. In their reverberated harmonies, we take a trip back in time to an America that was simpler on the surface but just as unpredictable when we get down to brass tacks. Nix’s vocal is soulful in these songs and complements the depth in the strings better than any other possibly could have.
There’s a little nostalgia in the lyricism that we find in “Retold,” “Whiskey Drink’n Women” and “Marie,” and it’s backed up with a vintage tonality in the instrumentation that contributes to the rustic vibe that we hear in all of the songs on Good Ingredients. Ralph Nix & the Guilt Birds are wearing their influences on their sleeve here, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call this an homage record. “Call Me Baby” is too flexible in its structure to be called anything other than Americana, but in the case of “Mercy Me” or “Falls,” the black-and-white lines between conventional genres become a heck of a lot grayer.
Mark your calendars, because the New Year is about to get officially started for crossover country fans courtesy of Ralph Nix and his impeccable Guilt Birds and their new LP Good Ingredients, and in a winter season that has thus far left a lot to be desired, it’s got just the right stuff to liven up an otherwise dull party. Progressive themes are often difficult to meld with Americana when it’s at its most uncorrupted and raw, but this band makes it look all too easy in these ten tracks. Their momentum isn’t slowing down any time soon; if anything, this album is going to give it a lot more steam heading into the next few years.