Bernie Nelson is a Nashville based singer-songwriter who has achieved considerable success, particularly with his skill at penning a quality Country song. His reputation in Music City has seen his compositions cut by legendary artists such as Conway Twitty & Kris Kristofferson, as well as by more contemporary artists including Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson and Trace Adkins. As is a requirement for writers pitching their tunes around Nashville, Nelson can also more than hold a tune himself with a big, hearty Country twang.
October 26th sees the release to UK radio of single ‘Lonelyville’, a track from album ‘Blue’ which made its bow earlier this month. Across its thirteen tracks, ‘Blue’ convinces you that ‘they do still make Country records like that’. Unabashedly traditional Country with a modern sheen, it represents all the very best qualities of the genre. From the opening track ‘Plainview’ it becomes abundantly clear the record that you are in store for, with its soaring fiddle and mournful vocals from Nelson on a moving tale of a heartbroken man searching for solitude in Texas, but hoping his former lover will track him down. ‘Watching Her Say Goodbye’ ups the tempo, a mid-paced chugger with a throaty electric guitar riff and hooky chorus. The songs sees Nelson losing out in love again but enjoying watching the ‘cute little swaying‘ of his lady walking out, as he admits to his faults in the relationship.
Tender ballad ‘Saving That For You’ cleverly lists the experiences that Nelson has never had, but rather than regret this realises he is thankful of the fact, now having the chance to share them with his love. A track with the potential to veer into saccharine territory it avoids this thanks to the sincere vocals. ‘Little Bit’ has a title very close to the Tom T. Hall song ‘Little Bitty’ and shares a similar good-time cajun-Country sound. Country stalwart Alan Jackson made a number one of ‘Little Bitty’, Nelson deserves to have a big old hit with his own composition ‘Little Bit’.
‘If I Know Blue’ is another Country ballad of the highest order, sympathetic accordion playing joins the traditional Country backing on a song with a title so ingenious it could only have come out of Nashville. Kudos to Bernie Nelson and co-writer Jess Brown for coming up with a unique take on the well-worn theme of heartbreak. Gentle ode to devotion ‘I’d Love You Anyway’ is a timeless song, full of sweet emotion and featuring gorgeous mandolin licks.
As you would expect ‘Locked Up In Lubbock’ is a rowdy honky-tonker, which gives the album a welcome shot of energy. With its rolling piano and sizzling steel guitar fills the track is an absolute delight, as we discover why the singer is stuck ‘sitting in the County jail‘. Fiddle aplenty on ballad ‘Moment With The Moon’ which once again takes a scenario heard many times before but Nelson manages a fresh spin to make the song stand out from the crowd. Special mention for the vocals on this track, allowing Nelson some lovely moments to show off the deeper, baritone edge of his range.
‘Scarecrow’ is driven along by dramatic banjo playing, on an edgy track with a bluegrass flavour. A powerful outro with rocking electric guitar closes the tune on a suitably thrilling note. The temperature stays high on rocker ‘Stay In A Honky Tonk’ which cleverly takes the ‘what happens in Vegas…’ theme and transports it intriguingly to Texas.
Quite possibly the stand-out track on an album full of great tracks, is ‘I’m Just Thirsty’ an utterly compelling description of some of the reasons why a man can turn to drink. Storytelling of a quality heard all too rarely, with a truly outstanding performance by Nelson and an incredibly atmospheric chorus. ‘I’m Just A Thirsty’ is a powerhouse of a Country ballad and needs to be heard. Wisely next track ‘Put Your Foot On The Gas’ picks up the pace (any slow number following ‘I’m Just Thirsty’ would suffer unfairly in comparison) but fails to really ignite, enjoyable nonetheless.
The album ends where our review started with upcoming single release ‘Lonelyville’, a wise choice of song to tempt the UK market to Bernie Nelson and his music. A mid-tempo cut with choppy acoustic guitar chords and moody electric guitar backing to Nelson’s sensitive reading of a tale of young love and a man offering to be a woman’s one-way ticket out of the town described in the title. Excellent Country vocals on a more mainstream rockier-sounding radio-friendly track combine perfectly.
Bernie Nelson is a new name to NCUK, familiar with the songs he has had cut by Nashville hitmakers, but unfamiliar with his own output. New album ‘Blue’ has unquestionably proved to be a superb (belated) introduction to his talents. Years of honing his songwriting skills with the finest Country writers means that Nelson knows what it takes to create a song which stands a chance of living in the memory for years to come, rather than forgotten five minutes after hearing it. He also possesses a voice that no matter what it sings will sound Country, deep, rich and with a satisfying drawl. Released on KEMC Records ‘Blue’ is the kind of album major labels shy away from, traditional Country music with real heart and courage of its’ convictions. For that, the label and Nelson should be heartily commended.