Amiable country singer-songwriter throws a few sonic curveballs on his fourth album.
For peripatetic country troubadour Shawn Nelson, traveling is just as much about raising new questions as it is finding answers. Nelson's fourth record, San Juan Street, finds him heading back to Texas from California for a girl ("More Than California"), displaced by Katrina (twice!) ("Hit the Road" and "Anna Lee") and occasionally relaxing in the bar (the organ stroll "In the Afternoon", the Bo Diddley beat of "Down Here"). It's all tasteful, sturdy, leisurely-paced (no song is less than four minutes long) country rock, anchored primarily by Nelson's guitar and Trisha Keefer's sweet fiddle. In fact, Side A may be a little too reserved, so it's a relief that Side B finds Nelson's journey going international and even galactic, as well as throwing in a few sonic change-ups. He horns in on Steve Earle's turf on "Babylon", decrying that region's history of bloodshed and Western interference, dabbles in reggae (without completely embarrassing himself) on "Daydreamers," and ponders alien life on the jazzy, mystical "Hollow Moon" ("Cut up cattle and bended crops / Pyramids and carved rocks" don't appear in too many country songs). Twenty minutes worth of pruning could make this unnecessarily hour-long album a real contender, but regardless, Nelson proves himself to be a curious, wandering soul.