Local musician Nate Gates releases album showcasing ‘slice of life’ in rural Pa.

Local musician Nate Gates recently released his album, “Ghost on the River.”
Local musician Nate Gates recently released his album, “Ghost on the River.” Photo provided

One of the greatest aspects of writing about local music is discovering what’s new, whether it be a new band, new musician in the area, new venue, or new original music.

As far as new, original music is concerned, I can think of at least five recording studios in our area consistently producing albums or singles for local artists, and I’m sure there are many more homegrown studios that are producing high quality new, original music as well. It’s a lively, local market, and a recent addition to the market is musician Nate Gates’ album “Ghost on the River,” produced by central Pennsylvania superstar Chris Rattie.

“The album is supposed to be sort of like a road trip through a crumbling Appalachia and a slice life here,” Gates wrote in an email. “There’s basically every type of music I know how to play here (except metal). There’s blues, rockabilly, garage, R&B, country and even a song that sounds like The Moody Blues. ... What I like about the album is how varied yet strangely cohesive it is. I couldn’t have pulled that off without Chris.”

Indeed, it’s what’s Rattie’s known for, fluency on multiple instruments, a knack for bringing cohesion to variance, and bringing out the best in whomever he’s working with, even if it involves a large cast of musicians working piecemeal on the same project.

“Chris plays drums, bass and baritone guitar, organ, harmonies etc.,” Gates said. “Chad Buterbaugh plays lead guitar on five cuts. The electrified harmonica is split between Nate Cutshall and Mike ‘Hounddog’ Hill. Gus Tritsch and Kai Schafft play fiddle and banjo, and I sing and play most of the guitar parts.”

“Ghost on the River” has been a long time coming, and is a result of years of brainstorming and conceptualizing different ideas for various albums. It’s the result of Gates’ intimate relationship with his muse, and what can only be described prolific, blending ideas for homemade albums, rebellion songs, a blues album, dying Appalachian towns, country love affairs, and some space for wonder.

“About three years ago, the muse hit and songs began to write themselves,” Gates said. “At this point I had 26 songs and the music told me that this needed to be one double album, so I ended up with ‘Ghost on the River.’ This album tells some stories I feel need to be told and hopefully paints an image of rural Pennsylvania few have seen.”

For Gates, this album is all heart, and it emerges from a long history of immersion and support, dating back to the late ‘70s when h was a toddler, and a fortuitous gift from his grandmother.

“My grandma gave me a stack of Beatles’ 45s to play on my Fisher-Price record player,” Gates said. “I knew I wanted to play music and started writing songs in my head. It was like a radio turned on.”

And, the passion instilled by his grandmother’s gift continued over the years, albeit with some waxing and waning.

“It wasn’t until I was 13 that I actually picked up a guitar and began playing, mostly metal but a little blues, and wrote a few songs and played in a few bands,” Gates said. “In college, in the mid ‘90s, I took a poetry class taught by Ian Marshall and began seriously writing songs.”

According to Rattie, Gates is, indeed, back.

“The project was crazy ambitious being almost 20 songs, but it was a ton of fun,” Rattie wrote in a message. “Nate is a solid and engaging songwriter. He’s got great taste and he turned me on to a bunch of music I hadn’t heard. He’s also got a really unique voice and singing style. It’s honest. There’s nothing invented about it.”

Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.