Ross Neilsen – Elemental
CD: 11 Songs, 43:30 Minutes
Styles: Atmospheric Blues Rock, Country Blues, Ensemble Blues
A silhouetted raven, with open beak and curled tongue, graces the cover of Ross Neilsen’s Elemental. Blues fans, if this reminds you of Edgar Allan Poe, you’ll be forgiven for thinking this CD contains only the darkest shadows of your favorite genre. Surprisingly, it doesn’t. On his sixth studio album, Canada’s Neilsen combines atmospheric blues rock, country blues, and ballads for a refreshing experience. Some die-hards might be in the mood for more guitar shredding and grittier vocals, but others will appreciate Ross’ lower-key approach to the blues. Reminiscent of a young Neil Young or Tom Petty, Neilsen pours his heart out through keen songwriting skills and keen musicianship. In the course of Elemental, he plays wicked-good acoustic and electric guitars while providing lead and background vocals. His singing is a bit nasal, at odds with his shamanic tough-guy persona (see inside cover for photo). However, anyone who hears him will know he means every word, whether rough or reflective.
According to his promotional material, “Music has taken Ross throughout Canada, Mexico, the Olympics, the Pan Am Games, the Hill Country region of Mississippi, the swampy rivers of Louisiana, and even to Macon, Georgia, where he was privileged to play the holy grail of blues, rock and soul: Duane Allman’s 1957 Les Paul Gold Top.” Wow. Yours truly wonders if Ross felt “Skydog’s” spirit flowing through his fingers as he strummed those strings.
Playing along with him are Steve Marriner on harmonica, guitars, keyboards, drums, vibraphone, and background vocals; Jim Bowskill on guitar, mandolin, pedal-steel guitar, violin and background vocals; Darcy Yates on bass; Matt Sobb on drums, tambourine, and background vocals; Ed Lister on trumpet; Brian Asselin on sax; and Kelly Sloan on background vocals. Jim Jones is also credited for “good times,” which are just as important to a band as performing.
The following three tracks are the most traditional, and have the sharpest razor-edge:
Track 01: “Elemental” – The album’s original opener features a killer background-vocal refrain and a protagonist whose relationship with her lover isn’t all sunshine and flowers: “You’re the river, baby; I’m the storm. You wear me down as you flow back home to the sea, to the sea, to the sea, with pieces of me. You’re the river, baby; I’m the storm.” It’s catchy, edgy, and entirely fitting of its title. Its subject and romantic object are compared to water, earth, fire, and air.
Track 02: “Black Coffee” – Brace yourselves: you’re in for a loud, raucous blues stomp that could make you sit up ramrod-stiff on your barstool. “All this cream don’t satisfy,” Ross sings about his favorite hot beverage. “Baby, give me some black coffee. Fill it to the top. Don’t you worry, baby. I can’t drink a lot.” Steve Marriner’s howling harp will raise your hackles.
Track 10: “Ballad in Low E” – The sole cover on Elemental is one of a fabulous Willie P. Bennett song, with a gritty cowboy-style guitar intro and sly comparisons to being a “rainmaker who cannot make the rain” when it comes to love, this CD’s penultimate track is the one that will propel everyone onto the dance floor. This should be on BB King’s “Bluesville” on Sirius XM.
Will you hear boring blues from Ross Neilsen? Quoth his raven: “Nevermore!”