Still Gushing, the compelling, heartrending debut full length album from Athens, GA based duo Nocturnal Blonde, is one of those dazzlers that can be appreciated for its emotional power and charms even if you don’t know the poignant backstory that drives it.
From the haunting ambiences of the hypnotically percussive opener “Blown Away” to the gorgeous, passionate acoustic title track that wraps the set, singer/songwriters Ritchie Williams and Rachel Adams – fronting the tight, propulsive rhythm section of Kevin Sims and Brent Hendrick – create a poignant, raw yet sparkling sonic universe that backs their dreamy harmonies and lead vocal tradeoffs with delicate acoustic gems amidst edgy, intense rockers.
As you are drawn into the slow burning intimacy, you might wonder why there are several songs with angel references in the title - the soulful acoustic tune “All Those Angels,” the gently country tinged “Almost an Angel” and the lilting ballad “Wings and Horns.” And what’s with the title of the dark, plaintive pin drop vocal harmony driven interlude “Oh, D?”
Turns out, it’s a double entendre that only makes sense when you learn the devastating truth about how the band got started and the story of Ritchie’s brother Dave’s opioid addiction and nearly fatal overdose. It hits home harder than you can imagine. Suddenly, all this musical magic transforms from just another delightful discovery of a hip new band with impactful songs into an experience about the realities of addiction and how pain can transform into transcendent healing destined to impact others.
On a brighter note, the Ritchie’s backstory includes an opportunity to work with legendary R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe and be inspired by his concise, intuitive approach as a producer – all fruitfully evident on the tight songwriting and no-frills production of Still Gushing. It’s also wonderful how fate/serendipity played a role in the way Ritchie found his musical soul mate in the otherworldly voiced Rachel.
They created Nocturnal Blonde to bring awareness to the devastating reality of the opioid pandemic, drawing on Dave’s story – he survived but is left with permanent neurological damage – to hopefully inspire and save others. Interestingly, most of the material on Still Gushing was written by Dave and Ritchie during the throes of Dave’s addiction. Richie experienced a breakdown while writing the rest of the material alone. Rachel’s entry into the picture was his salvation and by extension, just might be our own.