thu 13/08/2020

Album: Nels Andrews - Pigeon and The Crow | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Nels Andrews - Pigeon and The Crow

Album: Nels Andrews - Pigeon and The Crow

California dreamin' - but not as you know it

Nels Andrews: a mystical trip through Steinbeck country

This is the perfect album for these dark and dislocating times, a delicious slice of folk-Americana, 10 beautifully crafted songs (plus a bonus online) that envelop you in the gentle winds and fogs of California’s Monterey peninsula, and the waves on its flotsam-dotted sands.

It is in fact the fourth album by Nels Andrews, who now lives in Santa Cruz but who discovered his song-writing talent while in Taos, New Mexico, a landscape that has inspired many. Released in the US last fall, its UK and European appearance was originally timed to coincide with a tour. That must wait, leaving us to become acquainted with Andrews’ music – shamefully, I’d never encountered him before. Bob Harris named his Sunday Shoes debut among the year’s best and he’s been on the road since 2002.

Recorded a couple of hundred miles south down Highway 1 at LA’s Whispering Pines Studio, Pigeon and The Crow was produced by Irish flautist Nuala Kennedy, who also plays and sings on the album. Andrews’ voice is front and centre, his mellow tenor delivering elegantly crafted, impressionistic lyrics. To Kennedy’s flute and Andrews’ own acoustic guitar is added a lonesome fiddle, pipes, mandolin, accordion, and delicate percussion, including the defining beat of a box drum and, here and there, a steel drum. Anais Mitchell, Anthony da Costa and A J Roach drop in to add backing vocals. The album is elegant and cohesive, with a distinctly Celtic accent that confirms once again the shared heritage of so much American music.

“Scrimshaw”, the sensual opening track, is the sort of song you can imagine Emmylou Harris wrapping her voice around – indeed, in feel it reminded me of James Taylor’s “Millworker” from Evangeline, though the lyric hints at Yeats. “Eastern Poison Oak” has notes of bluegrass, “Lion’s Jaws” of Tex-Mex. In “Welterweight”, a clever and concise portrait of an ageing actress, “part too big, and a dress too small”, co-written (along with the title track) with Roach, vocals and violin are delicately intertwined. The title track has a quasi-Cajun rhythm behind an ethereal lyric heavy with romantic imagery and metaphor. “Holy Water”, a song about a gambler who may have lost money but never his love, is a gorgeous lilting number, mournful uilleann pipes to the fore.

Twisted Cypress, cedar and old missions… the rugged, beguiling landscape of Steinbeck country, conjured up in a deeply satisfying set of songs that ensure I’ll explore Nels Andrews previous albums.

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