The roots music revival is about to come alive in a big way in 2023, and Ralph Nix & the Guilt Birds are front and center in the movement with their new album Good Ingredients. Without borrowing too much from the past, the band brings a little bit of music history into focus in “Cohay,” “Mercy Me,” “Falls” and “Whiskey Drink’n Women,” a dash of eccentric experimentation in “Call Me Baby,” “Retold” and “Marie,” and some smooth-swaying rhythm in “Window Shopping”, “The Wish” and “Stella.”
If you’ve never heard of Ralph Nix & the Guilt Birds, this is a good time to get acquainted with their sound; Good Ingredients is as larger-than-life as a southern LP can be, but it’s in its muted moments of sobering confessions that we learn the most about the man responsible for its music. This singer/songwriter and his crew have got a passion for a subset of blues, western folk, and country that I’ve yet to see matched by any of their contemporaries, and it’s stealing all of the spotlight across the underground this winter.
Production quality is always important to artists of all backgrounds and styles, but for Ralph Nix & the Guilt Birds, it’s as vital to the listening experience as writing the songs that it will inevitably bolster is. Every sparkling nuance in the tonality of their instruments is given the VIP treatment in this master mix, with the guitars tending to shine the brightest in songs like the fine “Stella,” “Retold,” and the hot-tempered “Cohay.”
They never rob the lyrics of their share of center stage, and to be truthful, I don’t know that anything could. Nix spins a yarn so engaging in Good Ingredients that tracks like “Call Me Baby,” “Marie” and “Whiskey Drink’n Women” feel more like glimpses into a motion picture soundtrack than they do songs on a typical country record. It’s a masterfully arranged concept piece, and even if you don’t usually go for these types of albums, its exceptional construction and adherence to the traditional ethos of Americana make it too tasty a treat to pass up.
Poetic, contemporary, and much more fluid than some of the similar records I’ve heard recently, Good Ingredients is taking Ralph Nix’s music in a much deeper direction from all angles, and though it might divide his hardcore Catfish Gospel-era fan base with its somewhat complicatedly conservative compositions, I think that it will prove to be the stronger of this singer/songwriter’s two releases when all is said and done.
So many artists are trying to do exactly what Ralph Nix is doing in Good Ingredients; they want to merge styles of old with the high definition, boundless artistic textures of a new era, but there hasn’t been any solo performer or group that has been able to achieve results similar to those in this LP. In the last month, I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing some very intriguing albums that speak to the essence of Americana, and for the time being, this record is the best of the bunch.