Posted March 15, 2023

Nathan Mongol Wells | “In Years”

When Ottoman Turks frontman and songwriter Nathan Mongol Wells steps outside of the band for his solo debut, From A Dark Corner, due out this year, he doesn’t present as one of the characters from the Ottoman Turks’ uptempo songs — the conspiracy-poisoned uncle, the insecure southern bro, the apathetic rocker stuck in a perpetual party, or the vengeful corpse of JFK. Instead, Wells’ solo work feels more like it comes from the perspective of a man who spent all night arguing with those lunatics at a Dallas dive bar and just sat down in a quiet room of his house with a chilled glass of well tequila to quiet their voices in his head.

Beyond two wholly unique studio albums and 13 years worth of live performances numbering in the thousands, Ottoman Turks gave the world the solo careers of the band’s guitarist Joshua Ray Walker and bassist Billy Law. But the Turks are the brainchild of Wells, and while Walker went deeper into his country influences and Law put out a series of poignantly literal ballads, From A Dark Corner is the introduction to the man behind the Turks’ cinematic universe. Less raucous, but still packing the internal chaos of the characters he previously created (Walker, who co-produced the album with John Pedigo, describes the debut project as “fervorous”), From A Dark Corner is more autobiographical than Wells’ previous work.

Still, there seems to be an unintentional aversion to the ordinary in everything that Wells creates that prevents even his solo work from fitting perfectly into the Americana genre. Never shedding a hint of menace in his voice, he has a knack for adding whimsy to the darker themes he writes about in a style that feels touched by Roger Miller. Credit the juxtaposition to spending his high school years living on the outskirts of Deep Ellum, Dallas’ historically eclectic musical neighborhood. Or a line of influences that somehow went almost directly from The Strokes to Tom Waits to Hayes Carll. Whatever it is, Wells admits that he might be too “antsy” to write songs designed to be played from a stool in a quiet room.

From A Dark Corner still touches on the same kind of themes that a Guy Clark devotee looks for and are delivered like a cold burst of wind through a closing door, giving the sense that the songs’ runtimes are fleeting away, like Jerry Jeff Walker’s rendition of “Desperado Waiting for a Train.” No matter the grimness implied in From A Dark Corner’s title, anyone who has seen Wells perform knows he’ll find a way to get you to dance to the songs in a live setting. It’s only paradoxical as far as you give yourself the time to think about it. But by then, Wells is already on to the next song.