Greg Dean - bass; Hank DeVito - pedal steel guitar; Nicolette Larson - vocals; David Nichtern - lead vocals, acoustic and electric guitars; Claude Pepper - drums
David Nichtern grew up in New York surrounded by the arts and music. His mother, Claire Nichtern, was a celebrated Broadway producer and his uncle, Irving Joseph, played piano for the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra. While pursuing an English major at Columbia University, Nichtern began playing electric guitar in several bands, including Voltaire's Nose, which also featured Christopher Guest (Nigel of Spinal Tap fame). Following his graduation, he pursued formal musical training at the Berklee School Of Music before returning to New York City, where he joined the burgeoning folk scene in Greenwich Village. After establishing his reputation as a fine live accompanist and inventive session guitarist, some of New York City's most gifted singers began recognizing Nichtern's songwriting abilities and began covering his songs.
In 1972, Nichtern became Maria Muldaur's guitarist and musical director, producing the demos that got her signed with Warner Brothers. Over the course of the next few years, their musical relationship would be a very fruitful one, with Nichtern playing guitar and arranging some of the tracks on her classic early albums, as well as becoming guitarist with her touring band. Nichtern's "Midnight At The Oasis" was recorded for Muldaur's debut album and to everyone's surprise, became a top ten hit, propelling the album up the charts. Following his stint with Muldaur, Nichtern relocated to the Bay Area where he became the guitarist and singer for the short-lived, but legendary Great American String Band, an acoustic all-star group that featured among others, Jerry Garcia on banjo, David Grisman on mandolin, Taj Mahal on bass and Richard Green on violin.
Which brings us to the time of this remarkable David Nichtern & the Nocturns recording from the Record Plant. In late 1974, Nichtern assembled this new band to pursue his own music. The group included a seasoned cast of characters, including pedal steel guitarist Hank Devito, a veteran of Emmylou Harris' acclaimed Hot Band, and the stellar rhythm section of Greg Dean and Claude Pepper. A young Nicolette Larson, prior to her Neil Young connection and solo career, was also on board, helping out on vocals.
For the first four songs of the set, Nichtern plays acoustic guitar, kicking things off with the bouncy up-tempo "Traveling Through Tennessee." Familiar to Maria Muldaur fans, the slow ballad, "Oh Mama," follows. Nichtern then dips into the Great American String Band repertoire for the Country-Americana flavor of "I'll Be A Gambler." The acoustic portion of the set ends with "I Never Did Write You A Love Song" with Nicolette Larson taking lead vocal duties.
After introducing the band, Nichtern switches to electric guitar and things really begin to cook. "Cowboys & Indians," followed by Nichtern's own take on "Midnight At The Oasis," kick the fully electric portion of the set off in fine style, but it's the following "West Of Eden" that may be the most outstanding performance of this entire set. This composition begins as a swinging instrumental, with Nichtern vacillating between tasty soloing and heavily rhythmic playing that propels the band along. Clocking in at nearly 13 minutes, this is a tour-de-force performance that remains exciting from beginning to end.
"It's Hard To Keep A Family Together Anymore" is another catchy number, similar in structure to "Midnight At The Oasis." "John And Me" slows things down, beginning as a slow ballad reflecting on the passion for playing music and past glories. However, it develops into an infectious shuffle that again lets Nichtern and Devito cut loose, this time like two crazed fiddle players. They wind things up with the rockin' boogie number, "Lost Double Crossed And Forgotten."
In the decades to follow, Nichtern continued his work as an instrumentalist and became a record producer and celebrated composer for film and television. He also became the sales director of New England Digital, makers of the innovative Synclavier. He is currently a senior teacher of Buddhism, yoga and meditation at New York City's famous OM Yoga Studio.
This vintage recording is like the missing link in David Nichtern's career when, for a brief moment in time, his own material was the primary focus. This rare performance, fronting his own band, is thoroughly engaging and one can only wonder why he never released an album featuring this group. Thankfully this Record Plant recording captures David Nichtern & the Nocturns in all their glory.