Artist: Nellie Clay & The Lucky Dogs
Album: Never Did What I Shoulda Done
Label: Self Released
Release Date: 10/29/2015
With the right combination of songwriting skills, and an emotional vocal delivery to stand alongside today’s best Americana artists, it’s time for Nellie Clay to break out. Never Did What I Shoulda Done just might be the release that garners her some serious attention.
Clay’s provocative song, “What They Gonna Say,” is one of top three songs I’ve heard this year. From the opening track, “Oklahoma,” you immediately sense her heartfelt delivery. As the record unfolds, you can sense the woodsy, desolate, campfire gathering approach to her material, drawn from eight years living in Alaska in small cabins without, at times, minimal basic utilities like electricity and running water. In fact, Nellie says on her website that these experiences could provide enough song material for ten lifetimes. Her autobiographical stories are delivered with a nicely paced mix of folksy ballads and up tempo tracks.
Clay’s Alaskan backing band, the Lucky Dogs, features multi-instrumentalist Aaron Benolkin, whose considerable contributions are augmented with horns, fiddles, keyboards and background vocals on various tracks. Nellie has a strong connection with singer/songwriter Tim Easton, who also spent considerable time in Alaska and adds harmony vocals on four tracks. Several of these tunes have a nice, lush sound, especially “9 Kinds of Hell,” “Oh Sweet Elizabeth” and the centerpiece track, “What They Gonna Say,” which builds nicely to a crescendo in the chorus. Throughout, Clay sings authoritatively, alternating power with emotional nuance befitting the song. You can sense that she’s having fun, even with the darker material. Nellie Clay is one of the best new artists I’ve heard recently, and thanks to her recent relocation to Nashville, it’s definitely easier now to catch her live. Give her your ears.
– Jim Hynes