18 August 2023
Nick Justice is one of those artists whose name may not be widely known but whose music seems like its been in the ether forever. Best typecast as Americana, he doesn’t opt for a carbon copy sound. Instead, he puts the emphasis on affecting melodies and simple, unassuming songs that still manage to create a formidable impression if based only on instinct and emotion.
Then again, Justice has been around long enough to know what constitutes an affecting approach. Born in the Bronx, he moved to Southern California where he had a hand in fronting several early bands. He rubbed shoulders with various influential icons — the Blasters, X, the Go Gos, The Plimsouls, the Bangles and any number of other artists who were part of L.A’s burgeoning post-punk scene throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. He relocated to Seattle in the 90’s, making his name as a traveling troubadour who was equally at home playing coffee houses, house concerts, juke joints, and any other locale that offered an opportunity to show off his skills. Nevertheless, he failed to get the big break he hoped for and returned to L.A., quit the music biz but kept on writing.
He made his return to active involvement in 2015 courtesy of an EP titled The Cry of the Street Prophet. That put him back on the road to making records, and, in the process, scoring critical kudos for recent releases The Road Not Taken and Rope the Wind, both of which also scored significant gains on the folk music charts.
Justice’s latest effort, Stranger in My Town, consolidates those gains while keeping to a generally mellow mood and an easy, affable approach. The quietly contemplative feel of the title track finds an ideal fit with Greg Leisz’s shimmering steel guitar on “Let the Wind Blow” and the tender touch of reflection and remorse found in “The Night My Heart Caught Fire.” The music maintains its gentle caress throughout, with songs such as “Don’t You Know,” “America Walking By” and “Hard Times” combining low-lit arrangements with a generally solitary sound.
Producer Joel Rafael, a well-tempered troubadour himself, keeps the instrumentation generally simple and supple, with the jaunty “Thanks for the Smiles,” the winsome and whimsical “Dream #9” and the gospel groove of “Save Somebody” accounting for the slightest uptick in energy.
Overall, Stranger In My Town is the kind of album that shares its charms in subtle ways. And yet despite it’s low-key illumination, it’s undeniably affecting and appealing. With a little luck this particular stranger will find the appreciation and affection he so decidedly deserves.