CD Review – Drew Nelson “Tilt-A-Whirl”
There are a few things I have an almost pathological hatred for. Guitars with cutaways are one. Overly polite drummers who pussyfoot around the kit are another. You get a lot of both on modern indie country records. With Drew Nelson I could tell from the front cover of “Tilt-A-Whirl” that the former wasn’t going to be an issue. Thankfully, by the time I had gotten half way through ‘Promised Land’, the record’s opening track, I knew I had no need to worry about the latter either – Brian Morrill hits those bad boys just like they need to be hit. Still, dodging my bullets shouldn’t be the measure of any record, that needs to be down to the songs and the playing. Drew Nelson’s voice occupies a territory familiar to Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp and ‘Promised Land’ as a song puts him in the same ring, it’ a blue collar saga of broken promises and an indictment of a defaulting political system that has lost any will it ever had to support the people it purports to represent. Second song ‘Danny And Maria’ reprises the same teenage pregnancy / good girl meets bad boy territory as Springsteen’s ‘The River’ and Mellencamp’s ‘Jack And Diane’ and reinforces the common ground which he shares with those two big hitters. Happily, by the end of it Drew Nelson is level on points having turned in a song that manages to take a fresh enough approach to the subject to dodge the accusation of pastiche. By the time the record gets as far as St. Jude it has become apparent that this is a fighter with two good hands and the production has also found its feet with the B3 and the pedal steel bookending a solid band with some rippling, soaring lines that exhilarate and give the songs a self-assured bravura. Here to There, I’m afraid, runs foul of another of my pathological hatreds – songs about Ireland. In this tale of a black haired blue-eyed Galway girl (that sound familiar to anyone?) there’s just a little too much cliche for my liking and it’s coupled with a bizarre production touch where a shadowed vocal line spoken under the main vocal almost throws me. The production is rich and inventive though, and there are little atmospheric touches throughout the record, from the dogs barking at the end of ‘Danny and Maria’ to the analogue crackle in which ‘My Girl (Shooting Star Wishes)’ is embedded and it helps steer the record on a course different to that taken by the majority of records made with the same instrumental line-up. The playing is uniformly engaging, and for a band put together just to make the album there is a deal of cohesion and commitment to the playing that can, on occasion, be lamentably absent from such situations. There’s a grit and an assertiveness to the performances that holds your attention when it might otherwise start to wain. The record, especially the early part of the record, displays some great songwriting and perhaps it was inevitable that a little fatigue would set in by the end, but have no doubts about it, this record goes the distance and this fighter still has his crown at the end of the bout. Well worth checking out.