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Phil Edwards (April 12, 2012)
John Nelson "Vagabond"
Mystery Bay, 2011
File under; Americana Folk. Listen carefully.
What do Robert Cray, The Posies and King Sunny Ade have in common? They've all been produced or
had albums engineered by John Nelson. Now there's a thing.
Nelson's latest album brings his considerable talents to bear on his own songs and excellent they are too.
What I specifically like about this album is the variety. Nelson brings in the Native American flute player
Gentle Thunder on the epic 'Medicine Creek' which provides a rich ambiance that evokes the sun kissed plains of
Arizona or New Mexico.
'There's No Right Way To Do Me Wrong' swaggers with its blues vibe and honky tonk piano and instrumental 'Waltz
Indigo' sways gently in the breeze. 'Oklahoma Saturday Night' brings in a tiny bit of bluegrass; but not too much -
we don't want that do we? And 'til My Work Is Done' is a simple prayer set to a resonator guitar - no more. Simple
is good. Oh yes. 'I Found Myself In You' may not be the most perfectly sung song ever, but that's part of its charm.
'Waiting For The Weekend' also demonstrates Nelson's unwillingness to reach perfection with his vocal range, but
again it's all the better for it. There are 13 self penned songs on "Vagabond" and they're all unique in the way
they've been written and presented. I'm not going to list them all here, but I recommend you get a copy of the CD
and check them out for yourself. You won't be disappointed.
If you are on harmonica and acoustic guitar today you are too soon compared with Neil Young and Bob
Dylan, the legendary icons in this style. If you put music up there in the folk and country genre, you cannot rush
these two singer-songwriters around.
With his debut album "Soliloquy" from 2003 and the second album "Tengo Ranchito" from 2008 Seattle, Washington
resident John Nelson is already safe in this musical environment, nestled with his latest album "Vagabond", there is no
reason to be found to revise this situation. With the thirteen songs on this album it confirms all the good that has
already been quoted in the press following his previous CD's.
This musical trip through fascinating travel stories and a varied loves life delivers some very pretty songs. With the
sounds of violins on "By The Light Of The Moon" and "I Found Myself In You" both are very beautifully arranged pearls
from this track list. 'Gentle Thunder' plays Native American Flute on the seven and a half minute song "Medicine Creek"
in a true story about the signing of the historically important peace treaty in 1854 between various Native American
The album title track "Vagabond" is again a typical folk song with harmonica in the style of Bob Dylan or Neil Young
at the time of his album "Harvest". Then follows the lightly swinging country rocker "There's No Right Way To Do Me Wrong"
on a descending love affair, a song in which a prominent place was reserved for the sounds of a honky-tonk piano played
by Murl Allen Sanders and the female vocalist Tammy Frost.
John Nelson has been playing acoustic guitar since his fourteenth birthday and 40 years later the listener is treated
to his mastery of the instrument to hear the beautiful instrumental waltz "Waltz Indigo" while Jon Parry on the fiddle
adds additional atmospheric sounds.
Another highlight is offered in a mix of folk and Bluegrass with "My Sweet Love" and the waltzing two-step "Oklahoma
Saturday Night" on which Doug Jernigan on pedal steel excels and harmony vocalist Tammy Frost a second time glitters.
John Nelson does on Vagabond no trouble to all the attention to himself and he leaves room for all his musical
collaborators in turns to be in the foreground of the recording and sings his handsome compositions
in a peaceful manner.
"Freefalling", "If You Were Here Today" accompanied by mandolin and the acoustic closing track "'til My Work Is Done"
deserve as much a special mention in this review, because there are no weak songs in this very fine CD, which remains
in it's entirety, as a true feast for the ears as may be considered.
John Nelson is a singer-songwriter from Seattle, USA. He started playing guitar when he was 14 and has never really let down.
With 'Vagabond' he presents to us his fourth solo CD since 2003. There eleven musicians play a role on the CD,
starring drummer Chris Leighton (6 songs) and vocalist Jane Milford (also six tracks, they play and sing for some
time with John). Fiddle (Barbara Lamb both 'Asleep at the Wheel "and" Sweethearts of the Rodeo ") on violin we hear
six songs in total, almost half of the total (13, all originals). On pedal steel and dobro, we hear another familiar name,
Doug Jernigan (two numbers). But it's especially John himself who sets the tone on guitars, bass, mandolin, lap steel,
harmonium, harmonica, keyboards, percussion and vocals. He also provided the string arrangements in "By the Light of the
Moon 'and' I found Myself in You'. The music on the CD, almost a full hour, sounds of folk and country through folk-grass
(in strings dipped ballads and waltzes, including an instrumental) to New Orleans swamp ("Waiting for the Weekend").
Special Mention: "Medicine Creek", a brutal description of the poor and unreliable behavior (compared to the natives of
course) of the 'White people' in the middle of the 19th century, with a leading role for 'Gentle Thunder' on her native
Indian flute ':' The heartbeat of the Ancestors beats in the wind, the echoes of their words ring true again. That treaty
stole a way of life when it lay claim, the sacred ground we're standing on has never been the same ". Beautifully done, a
more than 7 minute charge!
"Vagabond" is an outright contender for my top-10 list of 2012. Great CD, lots of variety, great coaching, great songs.
Americana at its best, mostly acoustic.
John Nelson ~ Vagabond (Mystery Bay) John Nelson is a veteran in the music business as a producer and more. "Vagabond"
is only his third album, it is a very strong successor to the great "Tengo Ranchito" from 2007. We are offered mostly
campfire ballads a bit in the vein of Neil Young, around the "Harvest" album. The music is beautifully laid-back and
John Nelson's somewhat fragile voice fits just perfectly for the song material.
In my world, John Nelson with "Vagabond"
is one of this year's big positive surprises.
John Nelson producer, songwriter, performer combines all his skills on this CD. John plays guitars, bass, mandolin,
lap steel, resonator, harmonium, harmonica, keyboards, percussion and wrote the string arrangements. Other notable
musicians join him: Jon Parry and Barbara Lamb on fiddle; and on the classical side, Nicola Reilly and Erica Johansen
on violin; Jennifer Ellison on cello. Doug Jernigan plays pedal steel and dobro. Chris Leighton plays drums. Other
backing—Jane Milford and Tammy Frost. The title track ‘Vagabond’ is soulful and poetic, “He’s still waiting on that
ghost train, the refuge of the road. Someday he’ll find his peace, and fate will lead him home.” Next, sounding very
much like an old Elvis tune, through smoky reverb, John belts out ‘There’s No Right Way To Do Me Wrong’. ‘By The Light
Of The Moon’ is ragged with pain. “That was, many years ago, and now sister is gone, Father too, but the wisdom of his
words like a talisman, lives on and on.” There are harmonies but without great precision—this gives it ‘live’ effect.
‘Medicine Creek’ begins with Native American flute played by Gentle Thunder. “White men came and they decreed, Put pen
on parchment down on Medicine Creek.” This is a song of empathy. ‘Waltz Indigo’ is an instrumental. Couched on a crisp
bed of acoustic guitar, the clear melody is pleasant. The double stops enrich the simplicity—a very nice touch. ‘I Found
Myself in You’ continues the acoustic guitar leads, “There was a Carolina moon rising in the southern sky. When I laid
eyes on her that summers eve…” These are very personal songs and it feels like John Nelson understates the vocal lines
letting the words do most of the work. ‘Waiting for the Weekend’ conjures images of the boats and outboards and the
let it all hang weekends of youth, “Take a stroll under the blue moon shining. Tonight she’s mine all mine.” ‘Jezebel’
begins with haunting fiddle. ‘My Sweet Love’ is pretty straightforward in the lyrics, “Love grows sweeter like fruit on
…” the instrumentals here from Barbara Lamb on fiddle and Doug Jernigan are especially nice. ‘Oklahoma Saturday Night’
is the best example of John’s lyrics “No one knew if cousin Ray would show. Some called him crazy, said he’s too far
gone. Since the war stole a piece of his soul. There’s mine field he’s still walking on.” This isn’t fancy, just very
real. ‘Freefalling’, ‘If You Were Here Today’ and ‘Til My Work is Done’ complete this collection. The guitar work and
instrumental touches are quite interesting. It ain’t perfect and maybe that’s why I like it. [J.W. McClure]