If you were lucky enough to have caught Nels Andrews on his recent UK tour, you’ll know that the gentle and wonderfully crafted narratives from albums such as Off Track Betting and Scrimshaw are true reflections of the man. That he was able to offer up his rhapsodies on nature and life in a solo setting, without the songs’ studio trappings, allowed them to shine just that little bit brighter.
Andrews was promoting his latest album, Pigeon And The Crow, a worthy successor to the magnificent Scrimshaw. Indeed the opening song here is called Scrimshaw and it sets the tone for much of what is to follow. Set to a wonderfully hazy and lazy beat with shuffling percussion, wheezy accordion, gliding guitars and fiddle, the song finds Andrews settling into his new home in Santa Cruz as he investigates the sights and sounds and explores its past. It’s an exemplary song with all the parts fitting together like a jigsaw without seams while there’s a slight Celtic touch which becomes more apparent as the album progresses. Recorded mainly in LA, there are contributions from across the globe with various friends such as Anais Mitchell and A.J. Roach joining in while it was produced by Nuala Kennedy.
There’s a hauntingly hypnotic quality to much of the album. The Celtic airs of Memory Compass and the title song remind one of Van Morrison’s more Hibernian moments as on Veedon Fleece while there are elements of Paul Simon to be heard on Holy Water and Embassy To The Airport. Andrews however transcends any such comparisons as he forges on to deliver the exquisite and poignant Eastern Poison Oak, a slow country waltz with delicate fiddle and mandolin, and the elegantly faded memories of Welterweight which almost weeps from the speakers. There’s a pleasant surprise at the end as an unlisted song (Candidates Handshake) returns to the glories of the opening track
There are a couple of songs which don’t quite achieve the heights of their compatriots. South Of San Gregorio has a touch of the tropics to it courtesy of steel drums and Table By The Kitchen ditches much of the haunting qualities apparent elsewhere for a more straightforward radio friendly folk rock sound. These are however minor blemishes on an album which manages to transport the listener to a gentler world.
The album is dedicated to the memory of John (Biscuits & Gravy) Davy. A Scottish music fan, writer, and host to house concerts in the wilderness of Scoraig, he died last year. Davy was an early fan of Andrews and it’s a nice touch that he’s remembered here.