Anton Barbeau
Srdan Dalagija
Frank Gratkowski Trio
Jarboe and Telecognac
Lock Up Your Daughters
Beaver Nelson
The Pets
Matthew Shipp
The Peek-A-Boo Book of Spells
click above to return to review index
little brother
Beaver Nelson
Little Brother
Black Dog

click for Real Audio Sound Clip

Buy it at Insound!

As everyone hastens to say that Ken Burns' Jazz is all the jazz, Rolling Stones lyrics ("I know it's only rock-n-roll but I like it") really ring my bell. And if the snobbery behind Jazz triggers a similar sort of reverse snobbery in you, there's no time like the present to check out Beaver Nelson.

Though he has long been among the best artists in Austin, I became aware of Beaver primarily as an opening act for Townes Van Zandt. On those occasions, Beaver was able to evince -- through his lyrics, the guitars and his raggedy, downtrodden appearance -- a similar brand of drifting and sorrow, both of which were genuine and heartbreaking. His music was the kind of pain you made supper from on a bad Friday night. It wasn't until 1998, however, that you could experience Beaver Nelson's songs outside a bar. Beaver's debut, Last Hurrah, prominently displayed his debt to Townes, his life's scars wrapped in slow, alcohol-fueled melodies.

The raspy voice, combined with the terrific guitar work of producer "Scrappy" Jud Newcomb, continues to accentuate all of Nelson's strong talents on this sophomore effort. Each of the eleven tracks boasts strong melodies, dirty guitar work and well-crafted lyrics that seem casual and off-the-cuff; these words are often as funny ("Hey you're a girl/Two legs and all") as they are beaten-down, sad and weary ("If I seem a little scattered/If I seem a little tossed"). One major highlight is the nicely titled "My Bones Will Be the Picture Frame". It's a slow number that gains both toughness and beauty from Caelos Sosa's saxophone work. Comparable in tone to the Stones' "Waiting on a Friend", it captures the state of many people's days by being both downcast and hopeful.

"Little Brother Blues" and "Your Little Girl" burn at a slightly higher rate, with lots of attitude and classic rock riffs. Here, Beaver's not simply gleaming inspiration from Exile On Main Street; he's standing dead center in Main Street, waiting for a truck to hit him. There's a reckless outlaw quality about his best rock songs ("You told me not to tap to the devil's dance"), and much of the credit should go to his band. Pianist Pete "Wetdawg" Gordon plays like Nicky Hopkins with a hangover, and any complement given Jud Newcomb should be repeated again and again. It's a shame he's little known outside of Texas.

Other tracks that will justify Little Brother's long-term residence in your player include the atypically cheerful "I Like Girls", whose opening recalls Kris McKay's "Things that Show", and all the ballads ("Playing For Keeps", "Don't Bend Just Break" and "Scattered"). The slow songs are so well done, in fact, that it's hard not to wonder if his heart might be overwhelmingly placed in them. I wouldn't be surprised if future records follow the same course travelled by Rod Stewart and Paul Westerberg, where Beaver slowly steers his fanbase into a platter of ballads with nothing fast on the side. But if that doesn't happen, I don't think his fans will mind. He records everything with a shot of grace.

-- Theodore Defosse
It's back! Splendid's daily e-mail update will keep you up to date on our latest reviews and articles. Subscribe now!
Your e-mail address:    
All content ©1996 - 2011 Splendid WebMedia. Content may not be reproduced without the publisher's permission.