Shawn Nelson ‘The Devil’s River’
I have always talked about how I try to keep an open mind when it comes to my world of music, both on my blog and on social media. Something that has helped me with this goal is talking to musicians about their music as it helps me to appreciate genres that I may not have previously considered. One of these musicians who has helped me with this goal is Shawn Nelson. The way he has talked about his music has made me open my music collection to a sound with a rootsy country feel. It has that honest, and at times heartfelt sound, that I look for in my music. As a result of this, I featured his EP ‘Enough’ which was a great reflection of this sound (see post Shawn Nelson & the Good Buds).
Now, Shawn is back with his new album ‘The Devil’s River’ which I can confirm is his best work to date and continues to be as grounded as the man himself. I will talk more about the album later as I had the opportunity to interview Shawn where we talked in depth about his latest release and a little more. This is what he had to say.
This album has a more honest and natural feel, was this your plans when you began working on it?
Thanks for that, I started out just really wanting to capture these songs that have been played at shows for years. I also wanted to make more of an attempt to keep the music consistent. I write a lot of songs, but these tunes are road-tested and ripe. I guess the songs on this album are closer to who I really am where the songs on previous albums may be more about who I’d like to be – musically speaking. I write all kinds of different kinds of songs, but the majority of the time when I pick up the guitar, I play some sort of country blues bluegrass lick or melody and try to sing over it – that’s what I do everyday. That’s what I mean when I say these songs are more of how I really am as opposed to how I may perceive myself at any moment in time.
You have written so many songs as we can hear in your numerous releases, what is your secret to writing songs of a high calibre?
I practice the craft of song writing and stay open to the possibilities that present themselves. There is a cosmic super-natural aspect to writing music and art in general, but you have to be ready when that moment arrives. Like Willie sings on “Shotgun Willie” – you can’t make music if you don’t know nothing to play. Lyrics are tougher than licks, but they compliment one another and when it’s good, everything just all flows together. Another thing I try to focus on, is what I call – releasing the filter. What I mean is that you may have to sometimes separate your own thoughts about what you think is good in order to maybe get to something that is better. In some ways, it’s like writing in a trance or a stream of consciousness and then put it all together later. It’s almost like a song is a living entity and when you find it, you just help it grow.
Taking about your songs, which is your favourite from The Devils River and why?
I love all the songs on this record and play them at almost every show I do whether with a band or solo. That’s what I like most about this record.
Devils River – I wrote this song with Will Dupuy of South Austin Jug Band and La Tampiquena. He recorded it and released it on his own album. We once had an idea to write an entire concept story album around this song, but we have yet to get cracking on that. We wrote it in Will’s van, humming it and singing it on the way back to Austin from Bandera. Some of the longer shows lately have been book-ended with this song…meaning the opener and the closer.
Tighten Up – This is an old one of mine. It’s really just a honky tonk dance hall song celebrating life. My favorite verse is the third verse, I attempted to use all different kinds of bourbons to make a story. Google the third verse and you may be able to put it together. If you know bourbon names, it may be mildly amusing….
Medina – I love Medina. Musically it should have been a hit for George Strait in 1988. I’m from Houston and when I was kid the two coolest things were the Houston Oilers and the movie Urban Cowboy about Houston. Anyway, the song is about that late 70s early 80s time period in Houston when folks where flocking to the city to work in the oil business. A lot those folks like the character in Medina came from small towns in hopes of moving to the big city, work hard, save some money and move back to the country. Well that didn’t really happen for many, so we get Houston the 4th largest city in America. That’s what Medina is all about.
Diamonds – One of my musical brothers and long time band mate, Fletcher Murchison, came up with the hook line. He told me it would make a good country song about that classic honky-tonk theme of infidelity. I liked the idea and I love Fletchy, so I did and now we have Diamonds.
P&Ls – P&Ls Midway was a honky-tonk off 288 south of Houston close to where Dad is from in Angelton. My grandmother, Loretta loved this joint so we went there as a family a lot, like almost every Friday. This was the early 80s and it was still cool for kids to be in a bar at night. So my brother and I would play pool until adults wanted to play, we played Ms Pacman and also the jukebox every chance we got. This is where my county music education began. Sometimes there would be a band and everyone would dance, that’s where the dancing with your Momma line comes from – all this stuff happened to me. The line about the bunnies is true too, they would release rabbits in the parking lot on Easter Sunday and the kids would try to catch one. It was quite the site.
Deliver Me – This is a spiritual number I wrote while in a old-time band with Graham Wilkinson. The was called Honeydew Revue. Google it, Graham and I have a long history and some big plans in store. Anyway, I’ve kept on playing it through the years and I’ve always loved the message of the song of not living in fear and just accepting yourself in order to reach a higher level of happiness.
My Old Time Gal – I wrote this song about my wife and me. I love the old time melodies and when I stumbled across this one, I had to make it a song. I went back to the “write what you know” theory of song writing and wrote about what it means to be in a long term relationship with someone you actually really love. I know I’m crazy and so are you, we belong together me and you. This is a newer song, but I had to record it and it is one of my favorites.
The Honky-Tonk Life – My Dad has been telling me for years to cover “The Nightlife” by Ray Price for years, he always says – that’s what you do. I decided to write my own “Nightlife”. I was sitting at my kitchen table the first morning back after a 4 day run of shows, I wrote it right there in about 15 minutes. It came fast and it’s all true. I also gave some nods to Robert Earl with the “party don’t end of the road” line and to Johnny Cash with the “walk the line” line and to Kris Kristofersson with the “help me make it through the night” which was the first song I learned to sing and play. It does get cold out there too.
One Foot In The Grave – This may be my favorite song I have ever written. It was inspired by a fan who I learned has terminal cancer. His story was so inspiring to me that it came out in a song. He decided not to do the treatments, but because of that he has changed his life and lives for every moment. He has re-connected with a long lost love and they support each other in a beautiful circle of love. This experience taught me to live every moment and to enjoy your time here on this terrestrial plane – we all will suffer the same fate in the end. No sense on dwelling on it – live!
Your Man – This is a straight forward love song steeped in an acknowledgement of my shortcomings and a statement of my commitment. Being in love is great, but it can be a delicate dance at times especially when you have shared some many years and different lives together.
At Barton Springs – This is another special song to me. I fell in love with my wife on the hill at Barton Springs. We had hung out a few times before, but when we decided to meet at Barton Springs, everything changed. The song is about our journey together.
What has been your career highlights so far and is there any others music related goals you wish to achieve?
You can read the reviews of my previous releases, there are some highlights in there, but my personal highlights have been on stage. I’ve had the opportunity to play some great shows with some big bands at some really historic and cool venues. I plan on playing mainly in and around Austin with little runs here and there. I’d like to keep playing shows and keep making records, that’s is the goal and has always been the goal. I kind of a junkie that way.
What are you future plans for your music?
I have some great shows in April that I’m excited about…. the big one for me is in my hometown Houston at THE MUCKY DUCK on April 28. This is a incredible room and it’s my first headlining show there. I am pretty excited about that one. I’m also playing the Rhythms on The Rio festival in South Fork Colorado in August with Hot Buttered Run, New Orleans Suspects and Bill Nershi. Check it out: Rhythms on the Rio
Another big thing I have going is my side project with Graham Wilkinson, 2Fer1. We are recording in SUN STUDIO in Memphis on April 9 and are planning on releasing an album this summer of that material. You can check out this story HERE.
I may still be new to the world of country music but one thing that is universal is when a musician puts his/her soul into their music. This is what Shawn delivers in his new album ‘The Devil’s River’ which is a personal release which he described during the interview. It is also a great collection of songs that provide a nice variety of tempo with an amazing lyrical content. I have always been a fan of Shawn’s song writing ability, and on this release he has made me pay more attention to the honest lyrical content. I also have to give praise to the way these lyrics are delivered as I personally think his voice has not sounded better than it does on this album. Maybe this is because he has put his soul into creating ‘The Devil’s River’ which makes it easier to express his words this way. Some of his vocal displays are soul drenched which makes it easier for the listener to connect to the songs and this is when Shawn sounds his best. When you listen, I’m sure you will agree with me.
Picking my top 3 highlights from this album was difficult as I had 6 songs on my first two listens. I have finally chosen my favourites which include the title track ‘The Devil’s River’ which really showcases what Shawn’s music is all about. ‘Your Man’ also stands out due to its great sound and vocals. One song that continues to stand out on every listen is ‘At Barton Springs’. The song begins with Shawn’s tender vocals and tells the wonderful tale about that special someone. As mentioned in the interview this song is about his wife and because of that connection it gives the song an honest emotion that makes it so easy for the listener to enjoy. Such a great song, I can’t recommend this song highly enough.
Overall, Shawn should be proud of this release as it really showcases his lyrical and vocal abilities. I highly recommend that you give ‘The Devil’s Road’ a listen even if you are not a big fan of country music as this is an album that could change your mind. Head over to his Bandcamp page (click HERE) and give the album a listen for yourself. If you enjoy this album as much as I do then you can buy a copy while you are there and while you are at it, his previous releases are available to buy there too.
I will be honest, I still don’t own all of the music created by Shawn Nelson, but this album reminds me that they need to be part of my music collection. I want to own music that is honest and this is an artist who definitely delivers that. If you feel the same then head over to his website at Shawnnelson.com and click ALBUMS to see his full discography. This is also a great place to find out more about Shawn or you can check out his social media sites at Facebook or Twitter to say hello to the man himself.
Don’t forget, musicians like Shawn Nelson can only continue with the support of their fans. Support the music that matters to you by purchasing the music and tell the world all about them. Its our duty as fans to do so and in return more music will be created. It’s a win/win situation! Go on, support the music that matters to you today!