Somewhere in Malibu, in a living room overlooking the ocean, a miracle transpired in November of 2006. What else could you call it when Mark Howard, one of the most respected producers in the business, with credits that include Bob Dylan, U2, and REM, drives down from the desert on little more than a hunch and moves his studio into the home of an artist he barely knows?
And what do you call it when some of the top session players, from up-and-coming stars like Alanis Morissette’s keyboardist Zack Ray to legends on the level of Jim Keltner, come to that same house and, in just one week, begin and finish an album of that artist’s extraordinary songs? Call it a miracle if you like, but the real miracle is in the mind, the hands, and the voice of
Nathaniel Street-West, who takes a big step toward greatness with that album, Witness. Like landmark albums of years past, Witness is a live document, recorded by great players gathered into one room, feeding from each other’s energy and from the fountain of Street-West’s brilliant material.
Like the best of today’s releases, it’s tuned to a modern sensibility, alive with images that tumble through surreal streams of consciousness or pare down to the essence of anger and fear and wounded love. There are epics on Witness, like “Debra,” a story of shattered beauty that bewilders as it enlightens, like a beacon in a house of mirrors. And there are moments of abbreviated eloquence, like “Road Of Life,” which is here and suddenly gone, like the song’s picture of a jet plane that’s borne love away. There’s plenty of space in this music — space for Street-West’s guitar to drip, rich and honeyed, through the dreamy shades in “Flowers Of Summer,” or for his voice to quake and break with anquish in “Coldness Follows.” A song that Jim Keltner said, “really got to me. I immediately connected to a person in my life who is meaningful to me. When art touches you where you feel that strongly, it doesn’t get any better. It’s what it is all about.” The emptiness, as much as sounds, that fills Witness, speaks from Street-West’s soul — and every
moment that’s heard, every silence that’s felt, announces the arrival of a visionary, one whose music can change the listener’s world.