Artist: Beaver Nelson
Label: Freedom Records
Release Date: 08/26/2016
By the time he was only 22 years old, Beaver Nelson saw two major label deals go up in smoke. Most artists would have packed it in and maybe sought another career. Somehow Nelson persevered, first by fronting rock bands, and then eventually returning to what Rolling Stone had hailed him for at the age of 19 – songwriting. He’s had a family, a business and seven recordings before this one. Here he offers songs written over the course of his career, some new (“Positive,” “It Ain’t Yours”) and some that go back twenty plus years (“Willing and Able” and “Bad Movie”). Produced by his long-time kindred spirit, Jud “Scrappy” Newcomb, the album has mostly a bouncy hook-filled pop and power pop vibe. For those unfamiliar with Nelson, you’ll probably be reminded of Tom Petty’s solo work through some of the vocals and much of Scrappy’s guitar work. Newcomb not only handles the acoustic and electric guitars, but adds mandolin, keyboards and vocals as well.
Scrappy and Beaver worked with their usual mates, bassist Matt Eskey and drummer Mark Patterson. Says Nelson, “Scrappy produced my first three albums and co-produced the next three. On this album he was totally in charge of interpreting my songs. He kept removing chords and creating more room sonically for things like percussion and background vocals.” A few other notable Austin musicians contributed, including Rich Brotherton and George Reiff, who also mixed the record. Unlike many of the rootsy, earthy albums coming out of Austin, this one is bright, fresh, and melodic. It’s not a throwback though. It sounds every bit as current as much of what you hear on Triple A stations, but it’s grounded in a bit more substance given the length of time these players have been together and their origins in what was once a burgeoning rock scene in Austin. Clocking in at 38 minutes, these 11 tunes are crisp and radio-friendly.
The album begins with “Well, Well, Well,” reflecting on his early years of marriage. The jangling guitars then give way to the lilting chorus-filled “One Tough Love,” which seems to also be a tribute to his enduring relationship. The title track, “Are You Positive?” summons more energy before launching into the Petty-like rocker, “Willing and Able.” His gift for unconventional and rhyming lyrics is best exemplified in “I Need a Line to the Underground” and the mandolin-driven “Men Without Women.” The album’s closer, “Katie Bug’s Lullaby,” has touches reminiscent of The Beatles and The Beach Boys, positive notes to end on. Beaver Nelson takes his time between albums so each is rather special. This is deftly well crafted and worthy of repeated listens.
– Jim Hynes