Somewhere South of Sane is the 7th solo album from artist, producer, Palo Santo Records co-founder, and Dallas indie music godfather Salim Nourallah. A sprawling double album (21 tracks), this is Nourallah’s boldest work yet: an album that explores the desolation of peace in America (“Relief”), the implosion of a marriage (“Betrayal”), madness of a life lived among the record stacks (“Boy in a Record Shop”). An honest, often brutal introspective exercise that is relatable, heartbreaking, and amusing all at the same time. The two-fisted melancholy of John Lennon and the elegant bluntness of Neil Finn, Somewhere South of Sane elevates Nourallah to the apex of its art.
The 21 tracks that comprise the four-sided Somewhere South of Sane are what the respected musician/producer admits is “the work of a functional crazy person.” He adds, “Spending a lifetime dedicated to any form of writing is a particular form of madness. Especially in the face of the unlikely event that you will ever see much or any monetary compensation.” Nourallah is equal parts songwriter and producer, creating a shifting sonic landscape that could easily be mistaken for the work of multiple artists. From the gorgeous trance-inducing psychedelia of the opener “Boy in a Record Shop,” to the gut-wrenching self-realization in “I Missed My Own Life,” to the dueling Lennon/McCartney lyrical/melodic axis on display in “Tucumcari,” and the Nick Drake-esque “Moving Man,” to the hopeful album-ending “You’re the Light,” Somewhere South of Sane traverses more artistic landscape in one album that some artists could in an entire career.
In the tradition of nakedly stark, confessional songwriters like John Lennon and Bob Dylan, Nourallah makes no bones about confronting his inner demons on Somewhere South of Sane. “When I was a kid, I was struck by the violence, greed and insanity of the ‘grownup’ world. The only way I found I could deal with it was music. I guess I’m still using the same, crude method of self-therapy.”
Fueled by the dual existential crisis of lost self and lost love, the songs began coming to Nourallah in waves. “It all started with me playing acoustic guitar and singing the songs, even if they weren’t finished. And if the lyrics didn’t seem right, I’d just sing something else instead of putting pen to paper or sitting in front of a computer screen. Because my personal life had changed radically, I found myself with pockets of time to write for the first time in years. As a result I have a really nice feeling of peace about how this record came out. None of the songs were forced — there’s no, ‘Oh, I wished I had done this instead of that’ — and I think that’s because they were all recorded in the moment.”
“The other interesting thing that struck me while working on this record is that songs are just photographs of feelings. There’s something to be said for singing a song, recording a song, and documenting it while you’re still in the moment of the feeling. Just like a photograph that happens instantly. Trying to circle back later and re-capture that feeling in a recording usually doesn’t work out.”
Nourallah also observes, “Songwriting is kind of amusing to me, because it’s a waiting game,” he notes. “While you continue to observe things, feel things, and even jot down titles, it’s basically waiting for the moment where you enter this trance state of tuning into this distant radio station. There’s a song out there somewhere, and it’ll start coming through — but you can’t force it, or ‘demand’ that it happens.”
While Nourallah boasts quite an impressive C.V. of production credits (Old 97’s, Rhett Miller, The Damnwells, Buttercup, Carter Albrecht) alongside a rich solo catalog already six albums deep and numerous other projects, he stated Somewhere South of Sane is the first true “record” he’s ever made, and quite possibly his last. “Its always stuck me that in the music world there is the gigantic dogpile of albums buy artists that don’t know when to stop. Is it ego? I don’t know. But I never saw myself making records forever. At a certain point, when do you cease being relevant? When have you said everything you need to say? I don’t know if I’m quite there yet, but I’m getting pretty close,” Nourallah says with a laugh.
But Nourallah is still grateful for the opportunity to continue following his muse, and, ultimately, he wants Somewhere South of Sane to be relatable to its listeners on a number of levels. “I hope that regardless of whether someone has been through some of the things I’ve been through, they still get some food for thought from it,” he concludes. “It’s already been a success for me personally because these songs helped me navigate through this three- or four-year period of my life being completely turned upside-down. All of us are up against a basic struggle to be present in our lives and not always be caught up with the endless stream of incessant thoughts, worries, anxieties, and concerns that constantly roll through our heads. Being in the moment was a big part of my trip on South of Sane. It’s only when you let go of that host of distractions that you can be present and make the most out of each small moment. That’s really important to me.”
As Lennon once put it, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. And with the stirring depth that’s inherent all throughout Somewhere South of Sane, Salim Nourallah’s life has now unexpectedly catapulted his art into another stratosphere. May our collective ears and hearts be all the better for it.