Drew Nelson – Tilt a Whirl

January 01, 1970

(Red House)




Well-trodden song structures and standard arrangements could
be seen as templates. When they’re combined without a certain spark; lacking a
sense of the creative space they can enable, these tools can be effective (per
engaging an audience that wants something familiar and comfortable, with no
unwanted surprises). But when these elements are taken from the toolbox to help
a musician enlarge his voice, with a sense that the work could go anywhere
(within those familiar confines); lightning may streak across the sky. Drew
Nelson’s music tends to fall somewhere between these two approaches. The Navy
vet and Michigan
native offers certifiably “American” sounds. In other words, the more upbeat
numbers, such as the four-to-the-floor opener, “Promised Land,” and the chunky,
crystalline (an admirable combination) shamble of “Dust,” would make him a
natural opener for Tom Petty and/or Bruce Springsteen (as it happens, Nelson’s
dusted stages off for Melissa Etheridge and John Gorka, among others).


While Tilt a Whirl isn’t quite the heady spin suggested by its title, the album’s a solid set of
Folk/Country-based compositions. “Ferris Wheel” might be a more fitting moniker
— Nelson’s just as comfortable with the ambling, steady trot of storytelling
as he is at a full gallop. Sure, stories are great. Goodness knows that,
without the Folk and Blues genres, their transmission might be a lost art. But
Nelson has some roar in him, which pops up on the harder-hitting tapestry of
“Copper.” It’s sad, lovely, and rocking in a way that recalls Neil Young with
Crazy Horse, while sounding nothing like them.


The ensemble gathered for Tilt a Whirl is in the groove. Drew Howard’s pedal steel solos are
sweet and compact as fresh candy apples. Mark R. Schrock’s mandolin work injects
taffy-pull warmth and rich, amber color. Jen Sygit’s vocals add softly gritty
harmonies. And, even though it’s practically a given on labels like Red House,
these days, the production deserves mention. Working from Mackinaw Harvest
Studios, Michael Crittenden has made a poet’s job of this material (along with
contributing piano, guitar, B-3 organ, and Wurlitzer notes). Which is fitting
for an album with lyrics such as “She likes dragonflies and shootin’-star
wishes” (“My Girl”). When the artist writes these words from Michigan, I believe them. I have a friend
who left the Northeast corner of that state about six years ago. He was eager
to trade shooting star sightings for a more urban environment. Me, I can’t see
too many shooting stars, or stories about them.


DOWNLOAD: “Promised Land,” “Copper,” “Hallelujah Morning,” “Dust,” “Lessons” MARY LEARY

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