Little Brother

by: Beaver Nelson

If his debut, Last Hurrah, was more of a troubadour record for lonely midnight souls, Little Brother is Beaver Nelson's Friday night album. A raucous, rootsy club set, the album is peppered with Texas-style stompers, sweet-and-sour Nashville country, and beer-fueled two-step ballads, not to mention a quasi-funk ditty in "Fever Kept Me Up All Night" and some characteristically wonderful introspective singer/songwriter tunes. It may only be Nelson's second record, but the music is full of experience and hard knocks. Instead of making him embittered or cynical, however, the rough road that he has traveled only broadens and deepens his wry, complex observations into endlessly compelling songs. Little Brother certainly proves that early comparisons to heroes such as fellow Texans Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle are deserved, but in a larger sense Nelson more closely recalls Bob Dylan. Neither a Dylan imitator nor a "next Dylan" acolyte, he nevertheless is an outstanding lyricist whose words carry the same type of heft and create a similar affect. Almost every line is dosed with both world-weary resignation and black humor, and Nelson self-deprecates all over the place in a manner that draws you in as much as it makes you cringe with self-recognition. The songs can seem very personal one moment, and yet, as with Dylan, there is the peculiar sense that Nelson is standing outside looking in, having lived and come to terms with his experiences already and so is at liberty to sing about them non-judgmentally and without the sort of emotional attachment that could blur their cold, knotty truths. That notion is enhanced even further because he delivers each of his songs in a been-there, done-that, wasn't-that-impressed vocal that makes any tune sound matter-of-fact even when the sentiment isn't necessarily so. It is a trick that few songwriters manage to master but a gift that Nelson has in spades. None of the intellectual considerations of his music, however, should obscure the fact that much of Little Brother simply rocks hard. Whether they are pounding like a bar band, the early '70s Rolling Stones, or with the power of hardened country combo (all of which they do expertly), his assembled band of Austin veterans bolsters the credibility of everything Nelson sings about. The music is so tough yet so full of moments where vulnerability is allowed to surface. There are plenty of hooks and beefy melodies throughout the album, but what you are ultimately left with is that lasting emotional resonance. It is mournful in a very tangible way, and when you are listening to the album it feels like you are losing something or letting go, and yet even loss can be festive, if it leads to something new. ~ Stanton Swihart

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