Nels Andrews (from the album Scrimshaw) - Scrimshaw, when used as a verb, means to adorn. It is the traditional medium for the fine lines of ink etched into whalebone, ivory, shell or other material. In the hands of Nels Andrews, the fine lines of his lyrics adorn the folk and roots sound of this singer/songwriter.
Nels Andrews is a man of words. His lyrics read like poetry but have street sense about them. Literary tones and bad decisions make for good songs. Scrimshaw follows the path of previous Nels releases with musical arrangements that become a patchwork of rhythms and sounds. Diverse tones and textures fill the air around the stories that Nels weaves. Hand-held percussion and mandolin play tag for the opening segments of “Barroom Bards”. As the song spreads out, echoed guitar chords hover near the edge of the tune. The chords and notes of the guitar moan “enter”, but never feel comfortable enough in their surroundings to do much beyond scurrying around the words and rhythms. The effect is surreal, even when the guitar matches the mandolin notes. The singer/captain of the song never lets the playful instruments deter him from his course, or the message that “Barroom bards and river stones, don’t shine so bright when you get ‘em home.”
Expect the unexpected in the songs of Nels Andrews. Words that define the literature of a contemporary troubadour are part prose, part pulp fiction. “Flotsam” enters on dozens of fragile notes that sparkle like fireflies popping on for a summer night. Nels’ imagery walks the line between beauty and decay. The stories scratch their heads for meaning, though the feel of the tales leaves you with a clear understanding of what has transpired. “Small Victories” holds its head above a determined drum beat as it envisions a beach weekend of jade oceans and gin; “Three Hermits” playfully mixes banjo and acoustic guitar, encouraging the game of tag that the instruments play and uses a ‘la, la, la” harmony as a sly nod of agreement to the truth of the story.
Nels Andrews lets his voice drift across the surface of his songs, the delivery seeming like a conversation that allows for current news and memories in equal measure. Scrimshaw lets its singer use the power of words to nurture and coax, challenge and comfort. Danny McCloskey /RA