Flyinshoes Review

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www.nelsandrews.com

Already released in the Netherlands, Scrimshaw has shot straight to the top of the EuroAmericana chart, and here’s why: on the strength of just two studio albums (Sunday Shoes from 2001 and Off-Track Betting from 2008), Nels Andrews has a devoted following who are delighted to find that this new album is his best work yet.  Todd Sickafoose was the producer of that second album; returning to work with him again there is a much better marriage this time round between the bruised intimacy of Nels’ solo performance and his producer’s capacity for experimental, atmospheric soundscapes.

It’s a strange thing with record production; when it doesn’t work you can hear the things that jar, that just don’t sit with each other. When it does work, as it does here, it seems a magical organic thing that couldn’t have come out any other way.

          So, “Scrimshaw”: this is the art of carving on whalebone, walrus tusks and suchlike, developed by whalers back in the nineteenth century. It might be writing or it might be illustration, but it was an artform that reflected strongly the circumstances in which it was made. At its best it was exquisite miniature art, made in the quiet hours between bouts of desperate excitement, using the modest materials that came to hand. There probably isn’t a better metaphor for what Nels Andrews does with his songwriting, as he distils his observations and experience of New York life into these beautifully worked tales in song. Though there are instruments like banjo, mandolin and pedal steel embellishing these songs, Nels is very much a folk singer, one who deals with empathy and poetry rather than protest. There is a tremendous richness to his writing, each line full of reference and meaning. This can be self-reference such as the descending chords that open Scrimshaw - instantly recognisable to fans of the earlier albums - whilst when he talks about how “you come home ragged, you come home curly”, we are reminded of John Prine’s Speed of the Sound of Loneliness, and we remember that “sometimes you don’t come home at all”.  Nels pulls this off with a light touch, so that it feels like the way friends and family talk amongst themselves, conversation that is full of shared experience and understanding.

              Musically, this album has great breadth, with Barroom Bards in particular managing to pull together so many strands into something new and magnificent. Nels’ familiar warm delivery, a trilling mandolin, acoustic guitar as per Howe Gelb and electric guitar as per Neil Young on the Dead Man soundtrack all combine with a chorus of Nels’ mates to make a sound that could be a template for a whole new field of music. The sparse arrangement on Houdini comes closest to replicating the wonderful sound of the first album - the electric guitar is quite eerie with restrained anguish - whilst my favourite song at the moment is Wisteria, probably the sweetest song Nels has written. Here he sounds the most like a 60’s folkie that I’ve yet heard him. I can certainly hear something of a cross between Paul Simon and Tom Paxton going on in the tenderness and in the imagery. Nuala Kennedy adds some sweet, woody flute-playing to the arrangement and the song closes with Todd Sickafoose magically conjuring the sound of bees, busy amongst the wisteria blossom. Wonderful stuff. At first pass this is an album that belongs to the late evening hours but Scrimshaw has depths that will take some time to reveal themselves and that will surprise you, an album full of phrases and imagery to enrich your experience of life. The UK release is not due till June but there’s a few songs up on youtube already to whet your appetite.   

John Davy

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www.euroamericanachart.eu

November 2017

1
JW Roy & The Royal Family
80 pts.
A Room Full Of Strangers
Royal Family Records
EM,BH,RST,LK
2
Chris Hillman
79 pts.
Bidin' My Time
Rounder
BP,FS,HD
3
Turnpike Troubadours
46 pts.
Long Away From Your Heart
Bossier City Records
HM,TK
4
Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton
36 pts.
Wildflower Blues
Cinquefoil Records
TJ
5
Eilen Jewell
34 pts.
Down Hearted Blues
Signature Sounds
 
6
Lucinda Williams
31 pts.
This Sweet Old World
Highway 20/Thirty Tigers
BR,MW
7
JD McPherson
29 pts.
Undivided Heart & Soul
New West
JS
8
Mark Martyre
26 pts.
Rivers
Independent
FC
 
Tom Russell
26 pts.
Folk Hotel
Frontera Records-Proper Records
SP
10
Anna Tivel
25 pts.
Small Believer
Fluff And Gravy Records
MG
 
Margo Price
25 pts.
All American Made
Third Man Records
JB
12
Fred Wickham
22 pts.
Mariosa Delta
Thirty Days Records
RK
 
Joe Henry
22 pts.
Thrum
Ear Music
HVB,PJ
 
Whitney Rose
22 pts.
Rule 62
Six Shooter/Thirty Tigers
 
15
Dick LeMasters
18 pts.
Incompatible Things
Longneck Road Music
HDB,JJ
 
Jim White
18 pts.
Waffles, Triangles & Jesus
Loose Music
LM,SZ
 
Peter Gallway
18 pts.
Feels Like Religion
Gallway Bay Music
CVL,DHO
18
Thomm Jutz
17 pts.
Crazy If You Let It
Mountain Fever Records
 
19
Kris Delmhorst
16 pts.
The Wild
Blue Blade Records
 
20
Daniel Crabtree
15 pts.
In The Shadow Of His Wings
Independent
 
 
Jeremy Pinnell
15 pts.
Ties Of Blood And Affection
Sofaburn Records
 
 
Julien Baker
15 pts.
Turn Out The Lights
Matador
EZ
23
Amber Cross
14 pts.
Savage on the Downhill
Independent
 
 
Chris Blevins
14 pts.
Better than Alone
Horton Records
 
 
David Rawlings
14 pts.
Poor David's Almanack
Acony Records
 
 
Grainne Duffy
14 pts.
Where I Belong
Independent
GC,RW
 
Jeff Crosby
14 pts.
Postcards From Magdalena
At The Helm Records

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