Blues has always been, for lack of a better term, 'grassroots' music. Music that's honest and true. Few are foolish enough to play it for financial gain alone; while the good and the smart can make a comfortable enough living, for the best it's generally more a need, a compelling force to create, to make something of a musical form both sublimely soulful and as raw and real as a punch to the gut.
From the first listen it's amply apparent that Nelsen Adelard is doing it for the right reasons. "Jack Of All Trades," Nelsen's second outing, is about as honest - and as good - as blues gets.
Nelsen, who here plays scorching guitar and rollicking piano in addition to his superlative harmonica work (and did we mention he's also a superior vocalist?), is a songwriter of the highest caliber, often stretching the form beyond twelve-bar boundaries; yet no one would take any of his tunes as anything but blues, pure and true. In that he's much like Gary Primich, who guests here on several tracks. Also on hand to help out are fellow Texans Kaz Kazinoff on sax, Johnny Moeller on guitar, and Guy Forsyth on slide. Issued on fledgling Hotrod records, an indie imprint launched by producer Tim Northcutt to showcase acts he feels are so good he just has to share his enthusiasm, it's a winner all the way.
The opener, "Boogie Woogie Blue," swings like mad over a beat that combines shuffle and funk. "Tell The Truth" takes it uptown for a slinky ride that feels like neon and smoke fighting for control of rain-slicked streets. "In Walks G" is a harmonica duet with Nelson trading licks with - and holding his own against - the aforementioned Mr. Primich. In the hands of two such masters the 'lickin' stick' takes on an entirely new range, and the way they work together is nothing short of revelatory; they do it again a little later on "El Harpo." Both tunes feature doghouse bass and brushes on the skins, leaving the harps front and centre where they belong; for harmonica fans these two alone are worth the price. Fortunately, everything else is equally excellent. "Back To Hermosa" owes a bit to James Cotton's "Straighten Up Baby" (others might detect a bit of James Harman in the influence pool), but Nelson accents it with driving, melodic horn lines that are all his. "Too Bad" is a slow grinder that lets Johnny Moeller, one of the best (albeit under-recognized) fretmen around, a chance to strut his stuff. "Guitar Blues" laments the bluesman's life, yet the palpable joy in the groove lets us know Nelson would have no other. "Stay With Me (Just For Tonight)" is a gorgeous, smoky ballad driven by Tom Adcock's sax; Nelson's pleading vocal is a highlight. "I'm Here to Stay," featuring acoustic harp and Guy Forsyth's dobro-flavoured slide, has a Memphis soul feel, and "Nelson's Jump" does just that before things wrap up with a quietly effective version of "God Bless The Child" that may make listeners forget all but Billie's own.
Sound is near-perfect (kudos to Mr. Northcutt on that score), warm and with lots of presence yet lacking the excessive studio sheen prevalent in so many big-budget outings.
All in all a stellar effort proving Nelsen a major talent deserving of nation-wide - no, make that international - recognition. It simply doesn't get much better than this.
Recommended without reservation!
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