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Drew Nelson

Tilt a Whirl – 2012 (Red House)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Drew Nelson

On Drew Nelson's proper label debut, the hard-bitten troubadour offers up a song called Danny and Maria, a torch tale of two star-crossed young lovers reared in small town environs and trying to see beyond the monochrome view of their current circumstance. If the patched jeans and flannel shirt scenario sounds suspiciously familiar - maybe bringing to mind John Mellencamp's tales of Jack and Diane and those little pink houses - it's really no coincidence. Nelson's songs seem to have been bred in the same musical hinterlands, and he naturally fits the guise of the tender yet tenacious singer/songwriter who borrows his muse from small town tales and bittersweet fortunes.

Nelson's been recording since the turn of the millennium, but for the most part his music's remained out of reach, limited to costly imports or hard-to-find indie offerings. That makes "Tilt A Whirl" that much more of a revelation because it reveals an artist whose crusty vocals and tearstained stories occupy a fierce roots regimen.

There are any number of songs here that state that case, from the heartbroken hymn St. Jude and the tender, touching My Girl (Shooting Star Wishes), to the earnest backwoods engagement of 5th of September and the tattered romantic ode What She Does. Nelson doesn't just sing these songs; rather, he seems to inhabit them, punctuating each number with a staid conviction that finds every verse dangling on emotional tender hooks.

In truth, it's an honesty and humility seemingly borne of actual circumstance. "I don't know where I've been," he moans on Copper, evoking the trials and tribulations of a man who's made more than one wrong turn traipsing the road to uncertain salvation. Here too, there's an obvious comparison and an easy one at that. Yet, Steve Earle's Copperhead Road never seemed quite so desolate. Truth be known, Nelson not only seems to know where he's been, but more importantly, where he's headed as well.