Album review: Screamin Eagle, “Her Kingdom”

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Her Kingdom is the second full-length album by Christopher Alan Nanney, age 24, who performs as Screamin Eagle. It would be hard to imagine a more fitting alias. The sound of his voice—at once high-pitched and nasally, yet also guttural and sonorous—can at times evoke calls from birds of prey, and his musical style could be described as “quintessentially American”, to the extent there is such a thing. His own personal vision is fully-illuminated on his website, with essays and scanned pages from his own hand-drawn chap-books.

Nanney’s a native of Jacksonville. He worked serving sushi at a local café in Riverside over the past year when he wasn’t out performing, but with the onset of autumn he’ll be heading down to Gainesville, where’s he is enrolled in the prestigious Florida School of Massage (FSM). I’ve seen him perform a bunch of times over the past year or so, at places like Underbelly, Dos Gatos and Burro Bar. He was also a regular presence at the now-defunct Thief in the Knight building downtown during ArtWalk, right near where the sumptuous vegan vittles from Dig Foods were offered, and he also performed at the first big CORK event.

The album cover shows him sitting at a table in a dimly-lit restaurant somewhere. He’s wearing a blue t-shirt and placid smile, with silverware and a glass of water nearby; he looks mellow, composed and controlled. It wasn’t always that way: He was arrested for breaking into First Baptist Church in April 2010. The episode is reminiscent of recent incidents involving the Russian band Pussy Riot and MMA fighter/”Bully Beatdown” host Jason “Mayhem” Miller. A report by First Coast News claims police found him “standing on top of a water fountain. He had no shirt or shoes, was wearing a piece of purple cloth like a cape, and was holding a wooden club. Those items are listed in the arrest report as being stolen from inside the church. Police also noticed Nanney had several pages torn from hymnals [specifically, ‘A Hymn For Mother Nature’] stuffed down his pants.” A six-month stay in a mental hospital was followed by the recording of his debut album, Hurricane.

Certainly, it was an unconventional way to worship, but ultimately harmless. In fact, it may have been to his ultimate benefit. As noted on Nanney’s website, he credits the incident with helping to cement his commitment to music, a process that has led right up to the new album, which is excellent. Overall, Nanney’s crafted a collection of several excellent songs that all fit together nicely as a unified whole; there’s little fat, and almost no gristle. The 14 songs on Her Kingdom represent just a fraction of Nanney’s recorded output, which by his estimation may exceed 50 tracks so far. His work has already drawn praises from outlets like Movement, EU and Void. He usually performs as a solo act, using just his voice and acoustic guitar, but the album adds a few dimensions to that sound.

Nanney’s skills on electric guitar are used to nice effect—driving, anthemic—on the opening title-track, then entirely differently on the proto-blues “Rich Man”; it leads right into “The Gift”, which sounds like a cross between early Lou Reed and new Hamell On Trial. “Holy Ground” has a very Led Zeppelin III feel to it, a feeling reinforced by his slide-work in the album’s middle section on “Built To Last”, “King” and “The Meaning Of Life”. “Kundalini Rising” is an instrumental digression running five minutes-plus; it sounds like what a rising kundalini might sound like, if indeed it made a sound at all—and maybe it does, but that’s beyond the scope of this record review. “Pack Your Bags” resumes the electric-blues motif, while the brevity of “Like An Angel” and its repetitive pattern makes it sound like a lullaby. “The Drinkin Song” could, too, especially with its improvised chorus, recorded live at one of his shows. It should have been the last song—13 is an appropriate number, given the elements that combine to make the album—but “To Resist” ends it nicely.

He’s got just a few more shows booked in Northeast Florida before he leaves in September. They include gigs at Underbelly on August 18, Casbah on the 27th and Nobby’s in St. Augustine on the 30th. The reader will have probably missed all of those shows by the time you read this, but that’s fine. Without question, we’ve only seen the beginning of Nanney’s career; he’ll be playing around Gainesville’s always-interesting music scene, and he’ll be back in Jacksonville for the occasional set. The Screamin Eagle has only begun to stretch his wings.

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