Roger McGuinn could have made this record, but it doesn’t jingle jangle. Dylan could have recorded it, but he can’t sing. Tom Petty lacks the rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness lyrical sense to have pulled this off. And the Black Crowes would have been too wigged out. Beaver Nelson of Austin, Texas is an artist who cannot help but be compared to a litany of thoughtful and thought-provoking country/folk/roots rock artists over the past three decades. But he manages to be a respecter of tradition without being steeped in it.
The curtain rises on Little Brother with Nelson staggering into the city, “wandering downtown with a three beer buzz / hassled California-style, highway fuzz…” But don’t be fooled by this wry image. With gut-wrenching lucidity, Nelson goes on to peel his way to the source of despair:
“Baby needs a birthday present, something nice
Gambled with my grocery money, doubled twice
Thumb through Jeremiah at half past noon
Sunday coming early in our bedroom…
I read about the judgment of wicked men
Asking through the tear drops if I’m one of them”
Disappointment and the certainty of death are recurrent themes on this album. In “Little Brother Blues” Nelson reaches in to his confused little boy side:
“Walking down the path in our Sunday pants
You told me not to tap to the devil’s dance
You told me not to go, you told me not to go,
Then I watched you go…”
This is answered by the adult-sized, stabbing sarcasm of “Remnant” (”...a stack of bones, a road that used to lead home, just a remnant”). The demon of frustrated childhood dreams is exorcised, and Nelson moves on to deal with clear-headed frankness about contemporary relationships in all their muddled ugliness.
The resounding conclusion is that it is better not to judge, because we don’t always know what is behind our neighbor’s malfunction. With a flash of Solomon’s wisdom, Nelson explains, “I’ll soon be there in God’s great stare / And that’s why I can be here.”
In short, this is a thinking man’s southern rock record. Beaver Nelson is able to cut deeper to the marrow than his immediate fore-bearers, creating an entire album that reaches back to encompass the stunned self-judgment found in Dylan’s (and the Byrd’s) “My Back Pages”. Fans of the aforementioned artists will love this record.
// Notes from the Road
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