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Nathan Schmidt sees musical success

European music lovers dig on the American roots music. From aging punk-rockers doing the roots rock thing like Armchair Martian/Drag the Rivers’ Jon Snodgrass to dark-country acts like Slim Cessna’s Auto Club (both Colorado based), or bands like The Delines out of Portland or North Carolina’s Chatham County Line, the music lovers on the East side of the Atlantic Ocean love American music that has a bit of a country vibe.

Add local musician Nathan Schmidt to that list, as his latest record “Backstories” has garnered a load of recent attention both here in the States and overseas. As it should. It’s a standout effort, an album that walks a line between classic, 1970s-era country and modern, singer-songwriter roots music.

Highlights include the two-part narrative “Robbin’ the D&S Train (Parts 1 and 2),” which are both country ballad and bouncy roots-rocker; the locomotive-rhythmed, country boogie (thanks to Ryan McCurry’s honky-tonk piano) of “Swing On (John Henry)”; and the classic country-tinged narrative of “Ballad of an Old Pair of Boots.”

Recording came at the urging of friends and fellow musicians, colleagues who knew Schmidt had a pocketful of songs that he would perform live along with covers of country standards.

“It was kind of cool to slip them between a Hank Williams or a John Prine song or something like that. And nobody knew any different, which I always thought was a credit to the song, that they didn’t stick out from the classics,” Schmidt said. “Finally, Stephen Sellers (local bass player from Six Dollar String Band and ORA) was always nagging me to get in and get them recorded; he was always a real champion of the songs and thought they needed to be recorded, at least to have something for history’s sake.”

For the sessions he recruited a hot team. Recorded at Scooter’s Place with sound engineer Scott Smith, the band on various tracks included McCurry on keys and Sellers on bass, along with Cyle Talley on drums, Ted Hockenbury on pedal steel, Jared Wright on trumpet, Fred Kosak on guitar and Kate Willyard on vocals.

Schmidt also brought in Cody Tinnin from Stillhouse Junkies to produce. Tinnin is new to producing records, but he’s picked up some skills at his own band’s recording sessions and was eager to help a buddy with a batch of great tunes that stretched from outlaw country to twang-touched roots-rock.

“I worked with him directly on the overall vibe he wanted to convey. How big of a band, and an electric or acoustic band?” Tinnin said. “We kind of landed on more or less the outlaw-country motif in a way, but with a modern twist on that. That also left room for us to do whatever we thought was cool through the whole project.”

The interest in the album from other musical and media parties has crept up on Schmidt. He’s done very little promotion of the record on his own, however it made the list “The Best Country Music on Bandcamp” from the streaming service for the month of November, while also getting a writeup in the long-running, United Kingdom-based publication Country Music People.

“I figured it would be a thumbnail in the magazine, and it turned out to be a half-page, almost full-page spread,” Schmidt said. “And a great review, a five-star review, so I hadn’t really expected that.”

Schmidt’s “Backstories” is as strong a country-roots record as anything dropped out of East Nashville or Austin – a solid collection of country bouncers and ballads highlighting writing and playing from an up-and-coming songwriter, backed by a hot band of musicians who knock around Durango in their own hot bands. The critical consideration is well deserved and appreciated.

“To get the attention has been great,” Schmidt said. “I had a lot of fun doing it, but to put it out there, finally, and to get this kind of feedback has really been positive.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.