There was a time when Dave Fera seemed uncomfortable with his own art, playing a rock ’n’ roll show one night with Mahayla, then following it a week later with a country show or a folk show. It seemed like he wasn’t sure he trusted an audience, and anyone who liked the band had prove themselves. Big Blue Marble started as a separate outlet for his country interests, but it evolved into the project that pulls all his interests into a coherent musical rock ’n’ roll sound, and watching the band’s evolution has been unusually dramatic.
Natchez presents Fera at his most confident as a songwriter; consequently, it’s him at his least compromising. Stars in Suburbia from 2005 may have been more immediate, but it sounded like a band realizing just how likeable and accessible it can be. Natchez is just as fully realized—indie rock with no shyness and strong pop sense—but it also has a healthy sense of privacy. Songs don’t give themselves away too easily, and Fera has the nerve to follow his art even when it borders on pretentious. The catchy and inventive “Muses” includes a spoken word verse telling the Orpheus story (the myth, not the parade), and conventional sense says that Greek myths and rock ’n’ roll are uneasy dance partners, but Big Blue Marble makes it work. Lines as witty as “It’s nothing that a little crystal meth wouldn’t cure” help.
Nothing else is that grand. In fact, part of Fera’s talent as a songwriter is to root his songs the details of real life without becoming mundane or self-consciously poetic. For that reason, his songs evoke the small wins and small losses that so much a part of our day to day lives, and in Big Blue Marble’s current incarnation, he’s found a band capable of giving the songs a matching measure of detail in the playing.