Let’s start at the end. The final song on Charlottesville, Virginia’s Lord Nelson’s latest album, Transmission, finishes with the sound of dogs howling—or that of band members imitating the baying of the hounds. It’s a fitting way to close a record that captures the primal, rural resonance of being in the woods and rocking out with electric guitars and such. The music resonates with the echoes of late 1970s country-rock (think Tom Petty and Neil Young), where the noise and feedback become beautiful in and of themselves.
The song “Julia” provides a fitting closure to what has come before with its raucous melody and shaggy execution. Lord Nelson capture the experience of jamming together with like-minded friends like a group of canines who form a pack without losing their individuality. The loose vibe paradoxically reveals how tight the music is. The song’s chorus of “It shouldn’t have to be this hard” says it all with a grin. Taking things easy is challenging in a world where people expect you to get a proper job and behave according to social standards to succeed (“it’s a dog-eat-dog world”) instead of just being oneself.
Perhaps comparing Lord Nelson to a bunch of canines is a stretch, but as any dog lover knows, it’s meant as a compliment. However tame the animals may seem on the surface, a robust feral element gives the creatures their strength and beauty. Lord Nelson are a self-professed bar band that wanted to capture their live performances energy in the studio. After recording the album, the group intended to head out and tour when the pandemic came along and changed their plans. So, they decided to work on the record a bit more. They didn’t smooth out their sound as much as enhance its rough edges. Songs such as “Cheap Red Wine” and “Tooth and Nail” have a rustic grandeur to them even as they describe low life concerns.
The album was recorded in a converted barn that gives the music a spacious ambiance. The electric guitar is usually front and center, especially on tracks like “Country Desperation” and “Burn It Down”, where the music tells the stories more eloquently than the lyrics. Other cuts, especially “Putting in the Time” and “Drag Me Down”, use words to paint the picture of life on the road and how other people can lift one up or drag one down. The music churns underneath even when the words get heavy, and the songs detail crimes and heartbreaks, addictions and commitments to substances and lovers.
Transmission is meant to be played at loud volumes. The subtleties here – the interplay between the drums and guitars, the timely burst of horns, the singers joining together in harmony after taking separate approaches to the lyrics – emerge best when the group members push themselves forward. There are few quiet moments, and they usually serve as a prelude before an explosion.
Lord Nelson’s bark may not be worse than their bite—their bark is their bite. The sound they make is the point of it all. Just like a good guard dog knows that warning one’s master is better than sinking their teeth into an enemy, the band alerts you to the power and glory of loud rock ‘n’ roll.