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Reviewed by Greg M. Schwartz
The group gained some high-profile gigs opening for acts such as Santana and the Dave Mathews Band, but a breakthrough to mainstream popularity remained elusive. A decade later, Nanji is moving Indigenous into a new era with Broken Lands. His family members went their separate ways after the band’s last album, 2006’s Chasing the Sun, was recorded. But now Nanji’s wife Leah has co-written most of the songs on Broken Lands with him while also contributing backing vocals, bringing some of that family vibe back into the proceedings. Produced and mixed by Jamie Candiloro (Ryan Adams, R.E.M., Willie Nelson) the album was largely tracked live and has a vital energy. Broken Lands finds Nanji broadening his blues base to include roots and Americana flavors, a wider variety of instrumentation, and a stronger focus on more personal songwriting. It all adds up to the band’s best album since 2000’s Circle.
“Should I Stay” opens the album with a mid-tempo number that establishes an emphasis on a bluesy singer/songwriter vibe, and announces Leah Nanji’s vocal contributions in the first chorus. Nanji dials up a hot tone on his Stratocaster for the solo, assuring listeners that he hasn’t abandoned his inclination to wail.
“Place I Know” is a burning blues track about the stark reality of life on a reservation, featuring some of Nanji’s most personal lyrics and an extended guitar workout on the outro where Nanji starts cutting loose like he does in the live show. “All I Want to See” features the classic Indigenous sound of melodic, rhythmic blues that longtime fans might find reminiscent of songs like “Rest of My Days.” This track may be a bit derivative of the hit from Circle, but that vibe is like a lost friend returning to the posse. The song has the whole package – a crisp mix of acoustic and electric guitars, a bluesy organ solo, the soulful vocals, an infectious chorus and another smoking guitar solo.
“Just Can’t Hide” and “Let It Rain” deliver upbeat romantic riff rockers that also recall some of the best tunes from the band’s first two albums, as Nanji rocks out on the vibe that good loving brings. “All Night Long” mixes things up with an acoustic shuffle and some slide guitar, while “Make a Change” brings a mid-tempo Texas style blues. Indigenous aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but the variety of stylings on Broken Lands demonstrates what a seasoned blues master Mato Nanji has become.
The album closes on a more contemplative note with two songs that delve deeper into traditional blues: “Still Remember” is an ultra-soulful number about love gone wrong with shakers and acoustic guitars adding extra texture to vocals and riffs that just ooze the blues, and “Waiting” wraps the album up with a brooding epic that features an extended solo in the vein of “Little Wing,” as Nanji pays homage to both Hendrix and Vaughan.
Broken Lands is not the commercial pop blues of a John Mayer, and thank goodness. This is an album (and band) for people who dig music that’s permeated with authentic blues power, as opposed to blatantly commercial fare that throws in some bluesy leads in a more contrived manner.