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Nels Andrews
Off Track Betting

Review By Steven Stone
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  Although the first 30 seconds will lead you to believe you’ve just entered a world of “musique concrete” rather than folk, once Off Track Betting sheds its electronic introduction the CD settles into a more humanistic groove.  Nels Andrews’ second release straddles the gap between singer/songwriter folk and roots rock. Andrews paints tableaus with broad strokes so his listeners can fill in the details. Some folks refer to this as poetry. Whatever you choose to call it, Andrew’s music hits its intended target.

All nine original songs on Off Track Betting have an almost hypnotic quality. But unlike many esoteric singer-songwriters, whose work often floats upward into ether, Andrew’s tunes remain well grounded. On his most romantic song, “Butterfly Wing” Andrews keeps his similes simple with lines like, “I’m as happy as a dog in the yard.” Even the artificial bird sounds in lieu of a more conventional instrumental solo don’t dilute the song’s gritty power. This is a songwriter’s album, without hot solos and intentional flashes of instrumental brilliance to distract listeners from the songs themselves. Even Andrew’s vocals are understated, anti-Celine Dion in presentation. “Look at me!” is transmuted into “Listen to the songs.” The only sonic histrionics come in the form of little percussive and electronic flourishes that add a slightly esoteric overlay to the music.

Produced by Todd Sickafoose, all nine songs on Off Track Betting maintain a visceral musical texture. Acoustic guitars join pump organ, harp, mellotron, fuzz guitar, and even a wine glass orchestra to form a sonic landscape with the depth of the Great Marianas Trench. According to Andrews, “We strayed from the traditional folk sound, moving into newer soundscapes to incorporate harp, klezmer banjos, sampled electronics, and toy pianos.”  Despite the layers of instruments the orchestrations still manage to sound lean and restrained. Andrews continues, “We recorded most of the tracks live to two-inch analog tape. We sculpted all the parts in real time.” This real-time layering gives the music a freshness that eludes most studio recordings.

Andrew’s first album, Sunday Shoes, earned awards at both the Kerrville and Telluride music festivals. I suspect that Off Track Betting will garner similar accolades. Nels Andrews’ music hints at the future of singer songwriting in America.

 

 

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