Drew Nelson’s songs are facile in poetry, tactile in tone. They’re simple, direct expressions via mere melody and a mittful of guitar chords. Such is Drew’s gift – the ability to extract spirit and soul from the jumble of modern life, and turn it into...
Drew Nelson’s songs are facile in poetry, tactile in tone. They’re simple, direct expressions via mere melody and a mittful of guitar chords. Such is Drew’s gift – the ability to extract spirit and soul from the jumble of modern life, and turn it into music. His first full-length album, “Immigrant Son,” doesn’t convey a black-and-white world of joy and anger, but rather, a colorful mélange of complex emotions expressed in blues, grays, greens and browns.
“Immigrant Son” is the culmination of Drew’s unique artistic efforts, a balance of his worldliness and small-town-America sensibilities. As a kid, he quietly rebelled against the strict, religious confines of his home by secretly listening to rock radio. He overcame his band teacher’s humbling criticism of his drumming skills by teaching himself to play guitar. He escaped the quiet quaintness of his modest, conservative West Michigan hometown by joining the Navy and traveling to far corners of the world with his guitar on his back.
His itinerant lifestyle filled his notebook with ideas, and upon returning home, he found his voice in the small struggles and triumphs of daily life. Drew shared his passion with audiences in clubs and coffeehouses, and released debut EP “Recovering Angels” in 2001. His songs made a mark in his home state, attracting listeners with his word paintings, his humble insights, his unpretentious singing, his thoughtful strumming, and, most importantly, his honesty. Drew’s focus and dedication to his art brought him to Alaska, through Texas, to the Kerrville Folk Festival, to 18,000 fans at the Muskegon Summer Celebration (opening for Melissa Etheridge), to the recognition of the New Folk Contest for Emerging Songwriters, where he was a finalist.
And now, to “Immigrant Son,” the product of two years of writing and three weeks in the studio with longtime friend and noted West Michigan producer and engineer Michael Crittenden. Although embellished by colorful instrumental textures (including fiddle, mandolin, tin whistle and, yes, a jangly cat toy), the record adheres to Drew’s man-with-a-guitar ethic. That sensibility guided the arrangements, from the blast of flowery fresh air that is opening track “Lovely Day,” through the boggy blues of “Wal-Mart v2.0,” the roots-shuffle of “Brand New Way” and a plaintive cover of Richard Shindell’s road song “Next Best Western.” The homespun heartache of “Breathe” and the gritty urbanite observations of “Wealthy St.” are thoughtful portraits, key developments in his evolution as a songwriter and storyteller.
It’s rare to hear songs which cut through the noisy, distracting chaff of the day – and therein lays the promise of “Immigrant Son.” “The need for love, hope and acceptance are all interwoven into the fabric of our humanity,” Drew explains. “I want to touch that secret place in my songs.”
*Kerrville Folk Festival performer Thredgill Stage 2003
*Finalist in the Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk Contest for Emerging Songwriters, 2004
*Kerrville Folk Festival 2007 in the round with Susan Warner and John Gorka. *Has performed with the likes of Peter Mulvey, Edwin McCain, Alice Peacock, Jeffrey Gaines, Angie Aparo, Melissa Etheridge, Dana Cooper, Caroline Aiken Tom Prasada-Rao, Claudia Schmidt, Kitty Donahue, Josh White Jr.David Mead, Mustards Retreat, Darden Smith, John McVey and The Kennedys.
*Venues and Festivals 2006: The Ark, Wheatland Music Festival, Bliss Fest Concert Series, Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Connections Festival, Trinity House Theatre, Porcupine Mountains Music Festival, TriCentric Showcase Artist NERFA. (North East Folk Alliance)
I am an immigrant son. by Grand Rapids Press I am an immigrant son.With little more than the clothes on their backs, my Latvian parents arrived in the United States after World War II to forge a new life, start a new family and adopt a new...
Immigrant Son UK Review by Wisperin' and Hollerin UK Drew Nelson: Immigrant Son (Mackinaw Harvest Music MHM021)This is a cracker of a debut album from Drew Nelson, so accomplished it speaks of years of work building to this point of getting himself...
I am an immigrant son. by Grand Rapids Press I am an immigrant son.
With little more than the clothes on their backs, my Latvian parents arrived in the United States after World War II to forge a new life, start a new family and adopt a new country. Henriks and Antonija stepped off a ship in New York after enduring enough hardship, terror, pain and strife in a decade to last several lifetimes. Despite an uncertain future, these refugees just rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
I marvel at their fortitude, their honesty, their unbridled joy in experiencing the simplest pleasures of a modest existence. It has forever shaped who I am and forever reminds me that true riches lie in the fabric of family and heritage.
Maybe that's why local singer-songwriter Drew Nelson's heartfelt rendition of "Immigrant Son," the title track from his new album, struck such a nerve last weekend.
It came during a preview party at downtown's Black Rose Irish Pub, where he unveiled the CD's songs for friends, relatives and fellow musicians. "Never forget where you come from, you'll never know where you're going," he sang in a resonant, earnest voice while strumming an acoustic guitar along with a talented band behind him. "These roots run deep, and you are the immigrant son.
It's clear Nelson, 34, who's haunted West Michigan's singer-songwriter scene since the mid-1990s, has captured something special on his second album with the aid of producer-musician Michael Crittenden and some solid session players.
The music is part Lyle Lovett, part Richard Shindell (whose song "Next Best Western" also appears on "Immigrant Son") and a whole lot of just plain Drew Nelson.
Every song bristles with sincerity, spirituality and a keen insight about real life and real people that makes this the best acoustic singer-songwriter CD you'll probably hear this year. And of all these, "Immigrant Son," co-written with local musician Josh Rose, captures the essence of what it is to be an American, to embark on an adventure without ever neglecting your past.
We're all immigrants of the country of the heart. We're all having this first-time experience," says Nelson, who is of Scottish and Irish descent. "It's the roots thing. These roots run deep. There's something about lineage that's very important, that gives people a sense of identity.
Nelson's search for musical identity began as a youngster near Kent City, singing gospel songs and sitting on the porch listening to musician friends. A self-described troublemaker in grade school, Nelson started turning things around with theater in the eighth grade, then heard his first Bob Dylan record "and there was no going back.
After high school and a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy, he returned to West Michigan and played music at a "storefront church" for migrants. It wasn't until Michael Crittenden urged him put out his first album, "Recovering Angels," that he got serious about his songs. He credits fellow musicians -- Crittenden, Ralston Bowles, Lauran and J. Oscar Bittinger, among others -- for steadfastly encouraging him to ply his trade, and his wife, Nicole, for providing inspiration.
I feel like I've found my place," says Nelson, who sold lawn mowers at Sears over the summer, but now will pursue music full-time starting at 7 tonight, backed by a full band at a CD-release party at the Ladies Literary Club.
Although he briefly considered another album title, Nelson settled on the immigrant theme with a striking CD cover photo of a Montana settler's cabin taken by friend Lance Wynn, a Press photographer. It just seemed right, reflecting the rootsy, Midwestern melting pot from which Nelson sprang and the new territory he is exploring as an artist.
I wanted to really embrace that experience," he explains. "It felt like we were starting a whole new journey with this record. This is like the beginning of the next part of what I'm doing. It felt really good to call it 'Immigrant Son.'
Immigrant Son UK Review by Wisperin' and Hollerin UK Drew Nelson: Immigrant Son (Mackinaw Harvest Music MHM021)
This is a cracker of a debut album from Drew Nelson, so accomplished it speaks of years of work building to this point of getting himself recorded. A lot of the credit must go to Michael Crittenden who produces and plays guitar and piano (amongst other things). The production is fantastic: warm, intimate and clear. The songs come through and speak for themselves but there's lots of background detail that rewards repeated listening. Drew is firmly in the singer/songwriter mould, and his acoustic guitar playing is excellent - sometimes coming over jazzy enough to be reminiscent of John Martyn in the early 70's. His singing is pleasingly gruff, very warm and sincere; when he rocks out a bit on "Wal-Mart V2.0", a kind of protest song about changes for the worse in his neighbourhood, his singing is harder and more assertive but he knows better than to try too hard; he doesn't need to batter his audience into submission, he's got subtler tricks to his trade than that.
Drew's songs cover a wide area, from social commentary to celebration of the simple pleasure of being alive in the world; he's serious and thoughtful, and definitely cliche free, which is always welcome. Clearly all these songs would come over strongly with just the man and his guitar, but for the benefit of the album each song is drawn out to a distinct musical character - so that the sublime "Summer Rain" has a mellow, jazzy feel, even with a pedal steel in the arrangement, and it captures the feel of a hot, sticky day quite magically. "Immigrant Son", on the other hand, a meditation on the immigrant state of mind that continues to play its part in American society, is coloured by fiddle, tin whistle and bodhran to evoke the Celtic heritage of so many of those immigrants.
I hope this guy has some more songs in his locker, and that he gets to work with Michael Crittenden again. They're a good team and this is a richly rewarding album.
Bare Bones of Original Folk Music by Grand Rapids magazine Singer/songwriter Drew Nelson doesn't have a press secretary. Even if he did, he could not have orchestrated a better backdrop for a discussion of his latest CD, "Immigrant Son," than Gaia Cafe'.
The cozy vegetarian restaurant on Grand Rapids' southeast side swirls with savory scents: garlic and ginger sautéing, fresh coffee brewing. A general lack of pretense unifies the decor of mismatched tables and chairs and walls hung with outsider art. Here, with a cup of tea and a breakfast skillet in front of him, Nelson is right at home.
"Immigrant Son" has the warm, welcoming feeling of a favorite booth in a favorite restaurant. The honesty of its songs is nourishing.
Nelson recorded "Immigrant Son" at Mackinaw Harvest Studios in Belmont with producer and longtime pal Michael Crittenden at the control board. Guest artists include local music veterans Bruce Ling from the Hawks and Owls string band and Jack leaver. Colorado-based singer/songwriter John McVey (no, not John McVie of Fleetwod Mac.)
recorded the electric guitar and bass on Nelson's song "wealthy Street" the day after McVey's June 2005 performance at One Trick Pony in Grand Rapids.
Even with eight guest artists appearing on the record, "immigrant Son" maintains bare-bones instrumentation.
"We looked at each song like we were refinishing a piece of furniture, where you start stripping away layers of lacquer and layers of stain to try and find the grain," Nelson said. "That's what we were trying to do - to find the grain of the songs."
Through concrete imagery and stripped-down orchestration, the 12 Nelson penned compositions - Plus a Richard Shindell cover: "The Next Best Western" - Tell the slice-of-life tales of a mature songwriter. Five years have lapsed since Nelson, now 34 released his debut EP, the six track "Recovering Angels." The man represented by these new songs has grown more than time alone might measure.
"Songwriting to me is in those little details, those little moments," Nelson explained between forkfuls of scrambled eggs and black beans. "In the past, I have been more of an ethereal writer:
"The first thing that had to go for me was the idea that songwriting was this mystical process, that the music flies around and hits you in the head every once and a while and you come up with something brilliant. I guess that's how I approached it for a long time.
"It's a craft. And it's just like anything: The more you do it, the better you get at it."
In 2004, Nelson's aptitude at his craft was recognized by a trip to Texas and the finals of the Kerrville Folk Festival's New Folk Contest for Emerging Songwriters. More recognition may follow. "Immigrant Son" is nominated for best Local Folk CD in this month's Jammie Awards, sponsored by Grand Rapids community radio station WYCE (88.1-FM). -GR Feb. 2006
Update: Drew won the Jammie for Regional Folk Album of the Year!