In the classic Chinese text Tao Te Ching, a prominent fixture in philosophy and the Taoism belief system, a common needlepoint theme is learning to live “openly with the apparent duality and paradoxical unity.” While the exact authorship and date of composition has been strictly and widely debated for centuries, many scholars date the oldest excavated portions to the 4th century B.C. “Simplicity, patience, compassion: These three are your greatest treasures,” reads a rough translation of an essential pull quote, lifted from section/chapter 67. The message is rudimentary to human survival and how you navigate the hustle-bustle of concrete jungles or the cool greenery of rural landscapes. It’s certainly not an exact science, but singer-songwriter Nick Moran seems to be onto something. His second album, Easier Time, is a journey of mighty musicality and fearsome singing. The burning spirit of a bygone era, transcended by such prolific torch singers as Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and James Browne, is a mammoth, intimidating force which radiates on record. Hitting “at the constant back and forth between excitement and exhaustion,” the New Yorker never forgets to deal heartily in the persistent duality of life.
Co-produced with Or Matias (whose experience runs the gamut of pop, rock, hip-hop and soul music), Easier Time jostles from wholesome throwback to brightly contemporary, jump-started with the clang of “Baby Gets Home Tomorrow.” Moran’s voice is often times smooth and goes down like a sugary banana sundae on a summer afternoon: but mostly, particularly when he pushes his abilities well past his breaking point, he colors the melodies with restless grit. Swirling Wurlitzers, crisp and sexy saxophone, Hammond organs and blistering guitar characterize his entire project, best as framework for the groovy “Something New,” whose later gallop and rapid time signature change marks the song as his finest accomplishment to-date. When he really lets loose, he is downright magnetizing. From the gentle tickle of “Just Isn’t You”–in which he coos “caught up in a blue of my mind again” gently against a mellow swing–and the silky title track, which took him over a year to write and record, nine songs doesn’t seem to be nearly enough–but then, when the final chords of “Who We Are” fade into the sunset, you are left wholly satisfied and complete. “There are days you feel like you’re doing everything right, and some days where everything is a mess. Regardless of what kind of day it happens to be, I find the best thing to do is sit and play some music,” Moran reflected in an interview with Vents.
His disposition is ’60s-soaked and sunny. Even when he’s “feeling uninspired” and “tired of the same ole same,” he digs deep and unearths discerning optimism. Songs like “Lay Your Money Down,” the fervent “Better Let It Be” and the rollicking “Did It Ever Get So Bad” nudge you forward, and you begin to scatter the puzzle pieces around and things come into view. Moran details the shoddy, devastating occurrences so we can not only better process them but come to realize life’s sheer wonder. Easier Time rushes by quicker than you might expect, and if you blink, you’ll miss an essential grain of truth embedded in his breathy singing and vital playing.
Easier Time is out now on iTunes.
Must-Listen Tracks: “Something New,” “Easier Time,” “Better Let It Be,” “Baby Gets Home Tomorrow”
Grade: 3.5 out of 5
Photo credit: Elli Lauren