Poor Beaver Nelson. I'm sure the Houston native realizes by now that living in Austin is something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it's a place where a guy who perpetually looks like he's just crawled off this week's couch can get laid on a regular basis and hook up with a slacker genius like guitarist Scrappy Jud Newcomb to make a series of musically diverse albums without anyone breathing over his shoulder. On the other hand, the national press invariably lumps him in with other Texas singer-songwriters with whom he has little in common, and he's underappreciated at home to boot. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to bother him much. Motion is the latest installment in what is quietly becoming an impressive body of work.
Nelson's spiritual forebears are the singer-songwriters of the late 1970s, such as Graham Parker, Steve Forbert, Glen Tilbrook and Elvis Costello -- great lyricists who knew that the musical setting of a song is just as important as the lyrics. Newcomb may not get songwriting credit, but his contributions are an essential part of the mix. Nelson is a pithy lyricist and a good singer, and Newcomb's settings invariably shore up Nelson's strengths and minimize his weaknesses. "Too Many Words" is a song that might come off as too clever for its own good if Newcomb didn't wrap it all up with a left-field solo that's just too perfect for words.
Other standouts include "Let Us Build a Monument" and "Loving Arms of God," which manage to be spiritual and ironic at the same time; "It Really Shouldn't Be So Hard," which melds This Year's Model-era Costello to slacker culture; "It Is There," which could have come off any of the first three Graham Parker albums; "Orion's Belt" and "The Unfortunately Entitled Hey Little Mockingbird," which both feature outstanding lyrics and don't sound like anybody but Beaver Nelson; and "Webs on a Hubcap," whose lyrics about trying to create something beautiful against impossible odds pretty much sum up the whole album.
Beaver Nelson is a unique artist who, over the course of five remarkably consistent albums, has moved to the front ranks of the current crop of singer-songwriters. Motion is a damn good place to jump in and experience what he's all about.
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