hide captionNation Beat's new album features songs popularized by Hank Williams and Willie Nelson.
Courtesy of the artist
American and Brazilian musicians have been finding common ground ever since jazz artists turned to bossa nova 50 years ago. But the result has never sounded quite like this.
Nation Beat is four Americans and two Brazilians who fuse music from the southern United States and northeast Brazil. The band's second album, Legends of the Preacher, connects the histories of distant colonial societies in a way listeners can feel in their bones.
Singer Liliana Araujo hails from Fortaleza, in northeast Brazil. The region is home to a rich variety of highly rhythmic folk traditions. For Nation Beat, the most important one is called maracatu.
Nation Beat founder, drummer and percussionist Scott Kettner fell in love with this rhythm and spent nearly two years in Brazil immersing himself in it. He heard maracatu as a distant cousin of the driving beat used by New Orleans marching bands.
From there, the connections kept coming. That reedy fiddle is actually a Brazilian rabeca, played here by classically trained violinist Skye Steele. It's easy to hear the band pivot from southern rock to Brazilian funk.
In Nation Beat's music, European, African and Latin sensibilities come together in the spirit of a Friday-night party after a week of hard work. That scenario works in both the Brazilian and American contexts. But just when you start to think you've got this band figured out, it's apt to throw you a curve, like a shot of Jewish wedding music tossed into the mix.
Nation Beat's sound raises provocative questions about how music evolves and changes and moves around the world. But it's best to ignore all that and just enjoy the sweet melodies and driving grooves. Threaded through these 15 songs is the tale of a preacher who meets his end at the hands of a whisky-drinking outlaw. Take it as a metaphor for the risks and rewards of unexpected cultural collisions.