The Nth Power: Sharing ‘Reverence’
The Nth Power debated the word. After all, words mean something, and this particular one would be immortalized as the title of their next album. And, even though this particular word came with its own set of implications, no alternative choice better reflected the music they had made for this record. Just as important, it doubled down on the love they held for the man who helped make it—perfect, precarious, or both. Finally, the three agreed there wasn’t a title more fitting than Reverence.
Four years ago, guitarist and singer Nick Cassarino, drummer Nikki Glaspie, and bassist Nate Edgar began mapping out plans for a new LP. Coalescing in 2012 around their common love of funk, the five original members of Nth Power first came together at a late-night, Jazz Fest hang in New Orleans. Their sound quickly grew to include elements of soul, jazz, R&B and rock; they issued an independent debut EP, Basic Minimum Skills Test, in 2013, and their first full length, Abundance, in 2015.
By the end of the quintet’s half-decade together, original percussionist Weedie Braimah, founding keyboardist Nigel Hall and Hall’s replacement, Courtney J’Mell Smith, had all departed—leaving Cassarino, Glaspie and Edgar as the principal members.
Despite forming in The Big Easy, all three musicians curiously had ties to New England: Glaspie cut her teeth in Boston, but now lives in Austin, Texas. Cassarino, a Brooklyn, N.Y. resident, is a Green Mountain State native, and Edgar currently hails from the small town of Eliot, Maine.
Ever since the band’s inception, there had been a conscious spirituality in its musical mix and, over time, that spirit grew more inclusive. Glaspie has explored Buddhist teachings outside the long shadow of her family’s firm Christian beliefs. Cassarino attended Catholic middle school while growing up in Vermont, and his voracious appetite as a teen for Black American music—jazz, in particular—included the study of the faith-inflected origins of blues, soul and, especially, gospel. Edgar, a veteran of John Brown’s Body, was equally well-versed in reggae—an idiom whose many chief exports were true believers, professing the word of Jah.
Some audiences, Cassarino says, pigeonholed The Nth Power as a gospel group. Together, the three steered away from aligning the band with any one belief system, opting to find common ground among myriad disciplines. As Glaspie told Relix in January of 2016: “I talk to what I call God. Other people call it a higher power or Mother Earth or whatever. I talk to the higher power whenever I can, literally, just like I’m talking to you.”
Cassarino, Glaspie and Edgar have long tried to use The Nth Power as a vehicle to provide their community with some music that aided love and healing. “Our intention always is to put forth the healing power of music,” Edgar says.
However, the rise of a surprising secular force in 2016 would repeatedly test and inspire that intention. “The whole Trump thing really opened our eyes to some need to talk about taking care of one another,” says Cassarino. “We started to see this brutality out in the open.”
A week after the 2016 Presidential Election, the band released a live album, Live to Be Free, that included songs with titular signs of the times (“Freedom” and “Truth”) and narratives of the spirit (“Joy”; “Take My Soul”). The band spent much of 2017 divided between tour dates supporting the release and writing and compiling material for a new studio album. Cassarino combed his old songbook for relevant candidates, finding a favored piece that dotted their live sets, “Holy Rain.”
He also widened and embraced his self-image. Growing up on a healthy diet of punk music before embracing classic rock, Cassarino had recently started to assess his place as a folk artist indebted to the likes of Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. As the calendar flipped to 2018, the band began tracking at a Boston studio, inviting Kofi Burbridge—who had previously joined them for a 2016 nod to Earth, Wind and Fire at New Orleans’ One Eyed Jacks—into their circle. (In addition to being the group’s birthday, The Crescent City has served as the backdrop for The Nth Power’s annual tribute shows during Jazz Fest. Their memorable sets have included homages to Nirvana, Steely Dan, Marvin Gaye, and Bob Marley and the Wailers; the Marley show was even documented on the 2018 live EP, Rebel Music: A Tribute to the Message of Bob Marley.) Best known as the keyboardist and flautist for the Grammy-winning Tedeschi Trucks Band, Burbridge and his brother, bassist Oteil, were among the over a half-dozen special guests who joined The Nth Power after midnight in the French Quarter. Burbridge connected with the power trio instantly, and they immediately started talking about collaborating. By 2018, Burbridge was sitting in so often, Cassarino says, he was “basically in the band.”
They sent tapes of their Boston sessions to Burbridge to overdub keyboard parts. Then they jammed with Burbridge again on Jazz Fest’s Congo Square stage that May. “The way that he played our music was like the greatest accompanist; supporting and pushing in the most subtle and simple ways; doing the most while doing the least,” Cassarino says.
The sessions shifted to Atlanta, and, serendipitously, resident Burbridge was available to record with the band in the studio. “Kofi and Nick working together was a beautiful thing,” Edgar says. “Beautiful to watch and amazing to hear.”
A few weeks after he helped The Nth Power usher in 2019 during their New Year’s run, Burbridge passed away at 57 from complications following surgery. “Kofi was one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever known,” Glaspie says. “The way he expressed himself through music, what he gave people. We were really blessed to have him.”
Burbridge’s death portended a challenging future. Independently operated, The Nth Power went back on the road to finance the cost of finishing the album. Mixing and mastering issues further delayed the release date.
Then, the world around them took a dark turn: Trump immediately started trying to divide an already fractured political ecosystem, COVID-19 shut down the live-music world and a police officer murdered George Floyd on a Minneapolis street. And, suddenly, a band built on healing and love was surrounded by hurting and hate. “We’ve all been through the ringer,” Glaspie says.
They also had a response: an album they were proud of, prepped and ready, that delivered on their mission to share the light—that now had to wait. “We all recognize the role of the spirit and see music being a weapon of that spirit to do some good in the world,” Edgar says.
The resulting 11-song collection threads the new with the old, updating “Joy,” “Freedom,” “Take My Soul” and “Holy Rain” and welcoming guests like Maceo Parker, Ivan Neville and Nick Daniels III into the fold. Fittingly, they also dedicated the album to Burbridge.
“Reverence means a deep respect. Because people have deep respect for God, it leads to that connotation,” Glaspie says. “But we have deep respect for humans, for life and for the life force. And that’s something we feel like people have lost. We want people to have reverence for the Earth. We want people to have reverence for each other.”
Released in September of 2021, Reverence marked the conclusion of a fouryear journey. Glaspie thinks the album’s message and the band’s mission are more vital than ever. “We’re not in a great spot. We’ve lost the value of human life. I’m not sure we’ve ever had it. The idea that someone can own another life still happens today. That’s what we draw from.”
On the album’s penultimate track, “Take My Soul,” Cassarino sings, in first person, of a runaway Black slave asking God to take his soul before his captors can. Sadly, it strikes as a relevant, and unintentional, parallel to the killing of George Floyd—heightened in intensity by the song’s traditional blues arrangement. It’s also a delicate premise to posit in 21st century America, made riskier by a popular culture eager to cancel.
“I don’t know if it’s my naivety, or my ‘caucasity,’ but—because it was coming from an authentic place—it didn’t occur to me that it would be crazy [to sing this],” Cassarino says. “Maybe that’s fucked up. Maybe that’s white privilege. I’m a storyteller. I am singing it from a place of telling a story.”
Cassarino says he’s not inhabiting a persona in delivering the emotional vocals. “It’s honesty. This is who I am and where I pull from. I’m a white American male who has studied Black music his whole life.” The band and its diversity of influences, he says, is the metaphoric American melting pot. As such, he hopes the album earns Grammy consideration in the category of Americana.
After the weight of Reverence, Cassarino also believes that the time may finally be right for The Nth Power to expand its membership, lighten the intensity and start moving some feet again. “We want to make some dance music. Not everyone wants to come to a show and cry,” Cassarino says. “I love it when people cry because it means we’ve touched them deeply, but I also want them to have fun. You can’t stay on the mountain every day. You’ve got to come down a bit.”