Soul of a Kiss

One hundred years from now, when the musicologists of the future are attempting to trace the origins of British Columbia’s lake-country blues, there’s one salient moment they’ll be able to point to: the day Herald Nix loaded his battered amplifier, his equally well-worn guitars, and a few dusty suits into the back of his old panel truck and headed east from Vancouver, back to Salmon Arm.

Nix was already almost a legend then, a shadowy figure noted for thrillingly intense concerts, sudden disappearances, and a handful of fitfully brilliant recordings. Now he vanished again, into the centre of B.C.’s lush yet sun-baked Interior, whose rounded curves and rocky promontories have since seeped into his music, joining trace elements of Son House and Mississippi Fred McDowell, Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers.

The sound and the land, the land and the sound: inseparable now, they bring strength and dignity to Nix’s music in a way that, in the English-speaking world, is rarely found outside of the southern United States. Like Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel and very few other Northerners, Nix has become an honest bluesman, his lake-country sound a Canadian parallel to the hill-country music of the Mississippi Delta.

The comparison is not at all far-fetched. Like the hill country’s late champions Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, Nix can hammer on a single chord all day while still holding the listener’s attention with subtle inflections of tone and timing. Like them, he’ll rework a song according to how he feels, and these themes grow in emotional impact every time they're recorded. And like them he writes obsessively about women, about moving on, about hotel fires and bad decisions, liquor drunk and money gambled away.

But he’s no copyist, and no revivalist. That lake-country water is in his veins, keeping him true to himself and to the land where he was raised. He’s on the road from being a Canadian eccentric to being a Canadian pioneer, on the cusp of inventing a new musical idiom. The lake-country blues start here, but who knows how or when they’ll end?

— Alexander Varty

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