The annals of Nashville, the 20th century’s immortal Music City, are filled with lore of the legends, as well as tales of the one-shots, the lesser-knowns and the delightful obscurities: singers, writers and players who had a moment, were a step away from stardom or just stood in the same room with the men and women whose names we know. Like the outlaw he defines himself as, Chris Gantry doesn’t really fit in any of those boxes – and 50-plus years since he wrote his first and biggest hit, he’s still writing and singing, having lived to tell the tale of his serpentine but ultimately joyful path, a “Life Well Lived.”'
Now in his mid-70s, Gantry is still a consummate performer and an inveterate writer, appearing in performance as a lusty, genial man, grateful to have drunk of the experience he’s had, transcendent in that experience and ebullient in the moment of singing it. Nashlantis is the ninth record of Gantry tunes to be released since Chris moved to Nashville in the early 1960. Then, he fell in with like-minded others: Shel Silverstein, Kris Kristofferson, Eddie Rabbitt, Vince Matthews and Mickey Newbury – guys working day and night to break into the business, writing and singing their way through the chaos of their youth. It was an intoxicating environment – everyone with his own vision, and Chris’s cosmic stirrings setting him a little apart from the rest.
He first got a contract to make an album after Glenn Campbell’s version of his tune “Dreams of the Ordinary Housewife” went to number 3 on the Billboard Country Charts in 1967. Between 1968 and 1975, he recorded three madly diverse records, released by three different imprints – Monument, Magic Carpet (a Monument subsidiary) and ABC Dot. One other session from that time sat in the can for over 40 years, until Drag City put it out in 2017 as At the House of Cash. Meanwhile, the fellow who brought that long-lost project to Drag City, Jerry David DeCicca (a singer and performer in his own right, who also co-produced the Larry Jon Wilson album released back in 2008), was producing a new record for Chris.
Recorded in Nashville with the legendary engineer Rob Galbraith, Nashlantis features 11 mesmerizing Gantry performances (“a séance with the Human Spirit” as the producer puts it), retouched in Austin with painterly brevity by DeCicca and Stuart Sikes. Preserving the intimate nature of Chris’ acoustic guitar and vocals, Don Cento, Ryan Jewell, and Marina Peterson wove electric guitar, mandolin, synthesizer, percussion and cello into the fabric of the songs, and guest harmony vocalists Edith Frost and Bill Callahan added stellar contributions as well.
Nashlantis is inevitably a reflection on Gantry’s long and winding path through this world – but the vitality of the songwriting stops the music from becoming simple elegy or denouement. Chris’ crafty old-school way with a tune and his smooth melodicism gives him the space to tell his tales with ease; lovers, losers and madmen are depicted with warmth and empathy, a genuine love of the human spirit and the singing chops of a man who’s known tens of thousands of nights of song.
Nashlantis is a testament to the career and talent of Chris Gantry – the individualism that set him apart from his earliest days and his openhearted embrace of the unknown. Jerry David DeCicca’s production sound makes for yet another unique chapter in the Chris Gantry catalog – a potent new entry, five decades and more down the line – the improbability of which makes it pure Gantry, all the way.