GRAND RAPIDS – For most, the road to the promised land — sometimes called “Beulah land” in African-American spirituals — comes with its share of potholes and detours.
As a singer-songwriter deftly chronicling the common man’s everyday struggles to survive and find that paradise, Drew Nelson himself has traveled that rocky path, hence his appropriately titled 2009 album, “Dusty Road to Beulah Land.”
But Nelson, 38, could just as well have referred to that small northern Michigan hamlet of Beulah, because the Grand Rapids musician’s songs speak to the heart of average folks residing here and across the Midwest. It’s a lesson he learned from renowned Iowa folk musician Greg Brown.
“Greg Brown once said, ‘I started by writing about the Midwest and ended up writing from the Midwest,’ ” Nelson told me. “I’ve tried to model myself after that.”
Consider it a job well done because Nelson has produced the Local Spin of the Year, my pick for the best local or regional album of 2009.
Now, before proceeding further, let me put one spurious notion to rest: The Local Spin of the Year is NOT the kiss of death.
Despite insinuations from a co-worker who shall go unnamed (Hint: He’s a young, irreverent entertainment blogger whose first name rhymes with “joy” or “annoy,” depending on one’s mood), West Michigan bands and musicians have nothing to fear from my annual, much-coveted award.
While it’s true the first two winners — the fine rock bands Bless You Boys (2007) and The Mighty Narwhale (2008) — have split up since receiving this prestigious honor, I’ve found no evidence that my award jinxed their future … unless perhaps, band members wound up bickering and fighting over who got to display the dandy trophy on their fireplace mantel.
Still, I’ve found a way to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to 2009’s honoree: I’ve picked a solo artist for the award. Hey, no danger of a break-up, right?
Not that this made the choice any easier, mind you. Indeed, it gets tougher every year. I ended up with more than a dozen finalists in several genres — rock, blues, alt-country, jazz, Celtic, New Age, funk — selected from a record 96 local CDs that appeared in Local Spins in 2009 (usually the last Sunday of every month), with albums by several deserving bands and artists barely missing the cut.
In the end, though, Nelson’s album, recorded at Grand Rapids’ Mackinaw Harvest Music and released in March 2009, kept rising to the top — partly due to the finely crafted songs and musicianship, partly due to the tactful production, partly because tracks like “Waiting for the Sun” were so darned catchy.
Nelson is the first singer-songwriter to win the honor, which is saying something because Grand Rapids has produced some of the best in that genre over the past decade or so.
Call his music folk-rock, call it Americana, call it alt-country.
Actually, call it Michigan roots music, because if Nelson’s songs live and breathe anything, it’s his home state, whether he’s singing about a laid-off factory worker with bills to pay (“Stranger”) or rolling down the road with the Big Lake on one side and scrub pines on the other (“Highway 2”).
Part of that comes from the inspiration of other writers, including Michigan novelist Jim Harrison, Nelson said. Part of it comes from the connections he’s made with Midwest fans, many of whom have e-mailed him since the album came out to let him know how certain songs have touched them.
“That’s the real deal,” he conceded. “When everyday people can be affected by it, that’s the reward.”
For Nelson, 2010 could be as eventful as 2009. He recently recorded a song, Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Comes Again No More,” that will appear on a national compilation album featuring well-known artists Guy Clark, James McMurtry, Eliza Gilkyson and others. He also plans a June trip to Ireland, where he’s cultivated a solid following. In fact, he’s organizing a nine-day tour of the Emerald Isle in which local fans can join him overseas as he performs with Irish musicians. (Details online at drewnelson.net.)
And he’ll keep building acoustic guitars, a new passion that mirrors the kind of down-to-earth, Michigan-made approach that permeates his music.
“I play the guitar completely differently after I’ve built one,” Nelson told me, acknowledging the rewards of seeing the product of his manual labor. “This wood has a lot to teach us.”
Drew has been nominated for 5 of WYCE 88.1 “Jammie Awards” . Please take a moment to vote for the “Peoples Choice” award.
Local Album of the Year (The BIG Jammie)
NELSON~DREW Dusty Road to Beulah Land
Best Local SONG of the Year
Drew Nelson- Waiting for the Sun
Local Male Solo Artist
NELSON~DREW Dusty Road to Beulah Land
Local VARIOUS ARTISTS Album
Standing Together Mackinaw Harvest
(Drew’s song ‘Stranger’ is featured on Standing Together)
Peoples’ Choice Awards
Check out all the nominees and learn how to vote here.
Drew’s new CD ‘Dusty Road to Beulah Land” has been showing up in some great 2009 end of the year lists!
House of Mercy
Records of the Year 2009
The full top 60 will be published next week on www.houseofmercy.net.
We had over 3,000 listeners give us their top records and this
is the Top Ten:
No 1) Last Exit To Happyland – Gurf Morlix
No 2) Blood & Candle Smoke – Tom Russell
No 3) Cotton – Sam Baker
No 4) Written In Chalk – Buddy & Julie Miller
No 5) Red River Flower – Brigitte DeMeyer
No 6) Electric Dirt – Levon Helm
No 7) Dusty Road To Beluah Land – Drew Nelson
No 8) Hillbilly Goddess – Alicia Nugent
No 9) A Friend Of A Friend – Dave Rawlings Machine
No 10) Bread & Buddha – Harry Manx
Best of the Decade!
Drew Nelson heads up John Davys Noughty Hits.
Posted by John (Biscuits and Gravy) Davy:
Here’s a best of the decade list; I’d like to have put both of Drew Nelson’s albums in, partly because nobody seems to have picked up on him much and I reckon he’s quite special. In no particular order. All of these I love everytime I hear them and some of them are definitely comfort music for me by now.
AJ Roach: Revelation
Nels Andrews: Sunday Shoes
Bruce Springsteen: Magic
Drew Nelson: Dusty Road to Beulah Land
Joe West: Human Cannonball
Wilco: Wilco(the album)
Thamusement: Silver Seed
Paul Burch & the WPA Ballclub: Blue Notes
Loomer: Songs of the Wild West Island
Willard Grant Conspiracy: Let it Roll
TOP ALBUMS AND SONGS OF 2009
Drew’s new Album ‘Dusty Road to Beulah Land’ is #28 in the top 50 Albums of the Folk DJ List for 2009 based on 166046 airplays from 195 different DJs.
Drew’s Song ‘Grandmother Moon’ is # 36 out of the top 100 Songs on the Folk DJ List.
Drew picks up Song of the year for the Cowboys Sweetheart Radio in Australia for his song Stranger!
The Cowboys Sweetheart roots and alternative country music programme can be heard 10am – noon Saturdays on BayFM 99.9 Byron Bay Australia. It can also be heard via the streaming service at www.bayfm.org.
#5 also Song Of The Year 2009 – Drew Nelson – Stranger – Dusty Road To Beulah Land