304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
First things first, when I saw the name Paul Nelson I immediately assumed it was he of the Johnny Winter Band fame…but no; this Paul Nelson is a New Hampshire singer-songwriter who, after serving in the Navy, a career in the utilities industry, and raising a family, began playing open mike and church gigs. (If you want to find him on the interweb, make sure you use paulnelsonofficial.com). This eventually led to him meeting folk musician, Ellis Paul, who gave him the opportunity to open for him in concert. This led to the chance to lay down some of his own music on an album called Over Under Through. He has put together eleven originals and one cover and recruited some formidable musicians to help him out on this really strong amalgam of blues, folk, a bit of rock and the ubiquitous catch all ‘Americana’.
I was sold on the first track with the delicious acoustic and the slide on the swamp-ish , Go Down Ezekiel. Yes, it is the biblical prophet but the song is steeped with the blues and the lyrics actually suit it. This is modern, old-fashioned blues and is simply superb. The performance on electric guitar by Kevin Barry is thoughtful, well paced and well crafted, as it is throughout this fine album. Paul’s vocals are the right side of gravelly and add greatly to the atmosphere. I could listen the guitar phrasing all day! Ghost In The Basement is suitably dark and foreboding, both lyrically (“There’s a ghost in the basement, I know she’s there; where the boxes are stacked behind the stairs, I hear her at night when I’m trying to sleep”) and musically as the lap steel cries mournfully around the subtle and brilliantly effective snare/foot drum counter play; the eerie feeling is further enhanced by the vocals. This finely crafted slice of almost funereal blues is a film noir soundtrack waiting to happen. Color It Blue, despite the missing ‘u’, is a faster paced countrified blues with more glistening slide played with restraint and timing; each phrase wrapping perfectly around the lyrics and rhythm. The flugelhorn and trumpet even work as they play games with the melody. Secret is next and brings more lap steel to colour the landscape behind Paul’s soulful vocals. This is a slow jazz influenced song that nearly doesn’t live up to the rest…it has that languid Sade lilt that is usually anathema to me, but the picked electric over the lap steel in the middle section saves me from hitting ‘skip’. Lay A Little is a country tinged song which tends to wash over me without registering fully…it is a pleasant enough song, but doesn’t stick in the mind like the rest do. Alice Mullin is, apparently, a girl Paul had a crush on as a kid…its slow pace hides the beguiling way the whole song works as the lap steel is so sparse in its incursions and the flugelhorn shouldn’t even work…but it does, and when the acoustic solo comes in, it electrifies…an oxymoron, just like me, I know. Next up is a cover of a Johnny Cash song: I Walk the Line was never much good in my mind but here, courtesy of a total deconstruction and a couple of stunning pieces of, I think, semi-acoustic work from Kevin, it is more than acceptable. Relative Work has standard acoustic strumming with the pared down electric adding nice touches of chord and picked developments of the melody. It si the lyrics which save this one as the quasi-political commentary is spot on…in my own words, “I may be human, but I am not in the race”. Silent Majority is another song for today lyrically and has a Cale style with a Clapton-esque touch; soft rock with a slow beat neatly reflected by the careful electric riff and more excellent slide. Title track, Over Under Through, resorts again to some flugelhorn and the half spoken vocals backed by tasty electric picking and slide saves the track from a ‘bit too long’ syndrome, although it does remind me of Robbie Robertson’s solo work. Final track, There Is Weeping rounds the album off with an almost a hymn as the simple backing leaves room for the psalm like vocals which then, courtesy of the harmonies, breaks into gospel which, I guess, is fitting as there are quite a number of biblical references and inspirations throughout the originals. This is another very well written and played song with great lyrics but it feels like a bigger production of the gospel aspect would have expanded the sound and the effect.
In summary, then, this is a very good album for lovers of the lighter side of blues and country. The level of skill in the compositions and the playing, particularly of Kevin Barry, is (pardon the pun) a revelation.
All songs byPaul Nelson except I Walk the Line by Johnny Cash
Paul Nelson: vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin, Fender Rhodes, percussion
Kevin Barry: Electric, acoustic and lap steel guitars
John Sands; drums, percussion
Richard Gates: bass
Paul Kochanski, bass, upright bass
Tom Eaton: Hammond B3, percussion, backwards Rhodes
Jeff Oster: flugelhorn, trumpet
Kristin Cifelli: harmony vocals
Ellis Paul: harmony vocals
Nickie Fuller: harmony vocals
Produced byTom Eaton