Drew Nelson Live In The Highlands
This cd, available through Drew’s website I believe, is one heck of a coup for modern technology and for Rob Ellen’s Medicine Show. As recorded on Rob’s little machine (was it hanging from a coat peg?) the quality is plenty good enough – a little quiet maybe but clear enough to hear every aspect of the man’s performance. The story goes that Drew had been asked many a time to release a recording of just him and his guitar – and with good reason. It often strikes me that singer-songwriters have to be good at so many things: to write a good song is one thing, to perform it in a way that really gives it life is another, to work out how to make the best of it in a studio is another – and then there’s all the business side of being a single person operation. Well I couldn’t tell you how well he manages his business but what I do know is that he’s produced two fantastic albums full of wonderful, evocative songs and that he is one of the most intensely committed performers I have ever seen, absolutely in control of what he’s doing and delivering his songs in a manner that compels you to listen.
So, I was here for this one, along with about twenty other lucky souls in the intimate setting of the Strathpeffer Coffee House, host to regular mid-week acoustic music sessions. Earlier in the evening Dave Sharp had given us a fine set and then Drew casually launched into his set. It was a very cool autumn evening; pre-set cigarette and mental limbering up had to happen on the street outside and the man was struggling with a bad back. You wouldn’t know any of that as Drew slid easily into show mode. I have rarely seen anyone so focussed on getting the very best out of his songs and he did it again on this occasion. Now I wasn’t taking notes on the evening so I can’t honestly say how much of the set is on this cd; I remember one story he told on the evening which hasn’t made the cut so maybe there’s one or two songs missing.
As presented on this cd, the set divides neatly into new or unfamiliar songs (I’ve never yet heard Drew announce something as a new song, so he avoids the collective sigh that often greets such an announcement from the stage) and then a string of favourite songs from “Dusty Road To Beulah Land”. The new songs, three of which were co-writes, are every bit as strong and compelling as the older material and have me itching to hear the new album. The old songs? Well , it was bliss to hear them on the night and it’s bliss to hear the performance preserved. Pick of the bunch is an astonishing performance of “Molly’s Home” – to say he’s singing from the depths of his soul would be an understatement; it sounds like he’s dredging up the spirit of all his ancestors to give force to the his singing whilst conjuring some extraordinary, delicate sounds from his guitar.
There’s a nice story he tells in the middle of the set about swapping poems with an old guy in a bar on Bute; in the course of telling the story, Drew declaims excerpts from Robert Service, a nineteenth century Canadian poet of Scots background, and from Longfellow. They clearly mean a lot to him and the Longfellow poem, “A Psalm Of Life”, could well serve as Drew’s artistic manifesto but it’s the fact that he could pull these from his memory that speaks so much about the breadth of the man’s commitment to art and to the life well lived.
The evening closed with Dave Sharp coming back up for a joint performance of “This Land Is Your Land”. It has to be said that this took the concept of “under-rehearsed” into new territory and does neither of the guys any favours; only sentiment can have helped it make the cut for inclusion here but I guess you can take it as read that the spirit of Woodie Guthrie informs a lot of what Drew does. One more thing to mention is that I’m sure Drew’s American fans are going to be puzzled by what seems like subdued audience reaction. Even folk club audiences over there whoop and holler in appreciation of a middle eight whilst we Brits tend to sit and listen respectfully the whole song through. I’m sure he’ll explain to them.
The Finale to this show and album.
FSR Album Feature here http://flyinshoes.ning.com/profiles/blogs/drew-nelson-live-in-the