Dusty Road to Beulah Land CD
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Every generation has its poets; writers, musicians, and lyricists who capture the spirit and longings of their time. They tell our stories, giving us the words we need to celebrate or let go. That is the soil in which singer/songwriter Drew Nelson has been toiling. Legendary songwriter John Gorka said "Drew's songs sound like the rest of us feel. His characters are anything but defeated. They are dazed, angry, amazed and climbing".
Drew Nelson's latest album, Dusty Road to Beulah Land (pronounced (be-u-la) marks a notable growth in his standing as a songwriter and musician. Each song brings another side of Drew to the forefront, expanding beyond his folk-singer roots to embrace wider genres. Within this collection of songs we find the displaced Detroit auto worker ("Stranger"), the love lost and wandering ("Highway 2"), the farmer watching his beloved landscape disappear before his eyes ("Farmer's Lament"), the dazed blue collar worker shaking his head at bailouts and greed, and the deep respect and insight of Native American life and culture ("Grandmother Moon", "Raindance"). Drew puts his feelings, and ours, into words and music that capture the spirit and soul of the world around us all with a common thread: Hope.
Dusty Road to Beulah Land was produced by longtime friend and producer Michael Crittenden in Grand Rapids, Michigan and mastered by the legendary Jerry Tubb at Terra Nova studios in Austin, Texas. Tubb first listened to the tracks a few days before he and Drew got together to see what he was getting into. When Drew arrived, Tubb told him "I've worked on a lot of music. Sometimes I get a salvage project; this is a record."
"Drew's songs have a dusty eloquence and a rural blue collar sensibility"--Americana UK
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Drew's music is Americana, but it's not a whiskey and beer back chaser album, rather a slower sipping single malt, preferably with the window open on a warm summer evening. Lyrically, Drew's Michigan roots are apparent as the brine he's steeped in...and anyone who knows the beauty of gravel roads and trout streams of backroads Michigan and the Great Lakes area will feel a resonance ("Highway 2"). Drew aims high, with themes of the beauty of everyday life ("Grandmother Moon") and the pitfalls as well ("Stranger"). Throughout the album, there is a reverence for the beauty around us that shines through with conviction, but this is not an album of sentimental platitudes, but terse sketches of characters and stories that let an understated heart in the right place shine through. The heavier themes give ballast to the album, but presented almost casually. Drew's characters are regular people facing unwelcome changes, but are not beaten down, but hopeful despite uncertainty.
Production is also understated...druming is a very light touch, the slide guitar's heavenly and other strings and piano bolster and color the strength of Drew and his guitar. Over repeated listening, I'm still surprised by how new sounds continue to reveal themselves.
Ultimately, this album is Americana folk, but it makes me feel the way I do when listening to albums like Van Morrison's Astral Weeks or when I sat in the Gospel tent at the New Orleans Jazz Festival...eliciting a emotional wellspring of hope and gratitude in the face of an uncompromising and all too often impersonal world.
And the best part is that this is only Drew's second album. Judging by the trajectory since 2004's Immigrant Son (no slouch effort there either), Dusty Road to Beulah Land promises a long and rewarding career for Drew and his listeners. It's only been out for a couple of months, but I have a feeling it'll be around for a long long time.
There are some wonderfully crafted stories out of today's headline - "Stranger" tells of Nelson's returning to his hometown of Detroit after the decline of the auto industry, where he sings "I've walked these streets a thousand times". In "Farmer's Lament", he tells of a farmer watching as "the country turns to subdivision". These two, along with the lead-off track, "Highway" (about how we need hope for the next generation), are the standout tracks. There are two songs paying tribute to the Native Americans.
Two tracks are not up to the rest of the album. On "Half A Mile Down" the production sounds like Nelson recorded it in a hole. (Half a Mile down?) and has lots of echo. The final track, "Molly's Home" has a stark droning instrument, which I couldn't identify - even with instruments listed on the CD sleeve - which overpowers the vocals. Before the song was over I found myself hitting the "skip button".
Nelson is, not only a fine wordsmith, but also an excellent guitar player and the instrumentation on all the tracks, except for the one noted above, gives the album a nice "Americana" feel.
I'm looking forward to hearing more from Nelson in the future.
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