posted January 27th, 2021

Keys, the debut album from Bill MacKay and Nathan Bowles is, from the get-go, music that grows as it goes, a living organism, determined to be more than a simple collection of guitar and banjo duets.

Bill and Nathan met a few years ago, but after the first night they hung out, it felt as if they’d known each other for awhile already. A year later, they were booked to play as a duo at Cropped Out. They'd sent provisional ideas, thoughts and music back and forth from Chicago to Durham, NC, dashing through the ideas again on the festival grounds before the show. From such hectic acorns of preparation, their show that night was a serene oak of performance; a spiritual treatise clothed in the casual and natural manner of the proverbial porch.

Time passed, and after several more sets, they felt ready to record, all their ideas making for a full length experience. With KeysBill and Nathan drive their folk contraption with intent and feeling, joy and solemnity. Images of wariness, wonder, anger, deliberation, forgiveness, trust and devotion roll it forward into the unknown, a destination we can sense both players are happy to direct themselves. Eight of the featured songs are originals, with the other two coming from other centuries. The diversity of song is matched by the instrumentation: in addition to Bill’s guitar and Nathan’s banjo, they use voice, piano, percussion, pump organ, electric organ and requinto to add space to the richness and rusticity, the traditional space of the compositions.

Naturally, this music sounds in the 21st century like yearning; sometimes melancholy, sometimes rambunctious, but always reaching for something in between the strings. Bill MacKay and Nathan Bowles' traddy bonafides are balanced by inquisitive playing that uses surprise as a formal songwriting and arranging tool. Keys is made of equal parts bluegrass, classical, country, gospel, improv and that ol' innocence and experience to boot. Hit the road today with "Joy Ride" and order your Keys copy for April 9th arrival!

Artists in this story: Bill MacKay and Nathan Bowles