REVIEW: Nell & Jim Band’s “Western Sun” is a Gloriously Fluid Showcase


Nell & Jim Band – Western Sun

Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally team to create engaging Americana-roots-alt-country music on a traditional path of balladry, bluegrass, folk, & a variety of other genres in a gloriously fluid showcase. Alabama’s Nell (flute/vocals/lyrics), Jim (acoustic guitar/banjo/vocals), Jim Kerwin (bass fiddle), Alex Aspinall (percussion), & Rob Reich (accordion/keyboards) keep the vintage dignity rooted & absorbing.

Nell sings with an old-school country singer’s clarity while Grammy Award winner San Francisco Bay area musician Jim Nunally, (a former member of the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience) plays with jubilant authenticity. Nell’s voice has a traditional tilt & though she doesn’t sing as silky as Sandy Denny, or Judith Durham (The Seekers), smoky as Christine Collister, deep as June Tabor she exemplifies a mountain rural tone presence. Similar to Iris Dement just not as rustic & stark.

The duo explores many typical folk-oriented facets. Their songs, however, are more historic in feel as they reach back to play old world influenced melodies. “Clinch Mountain Backstep,” is a rousing instrumental with excellent interplay. All songs are played with proficiency — a mix of country folk & a dash of effective jazz bass lines with fiddle accentuations. The accordion on “In My Beautiful Dream” is mindful of The Texas Tornadoes & refreshingly enthusiastic. Jim brings an old-world country voice that’s distinctive. Here, Jim is ¼ Jimmie Dale Gilmore & ¼ Little Jimmie Dickens. Not too shabby.

Western Sun collects 15 songs (drops May 29 – Whippoorwill Arts) & includes “Hurricane,” a beautiful Nell nugget with crystal clear acoustic guitar over a deep bass fiddle. “Bass Fiddle Fanfare” is a vigorous instrumental. The LP overall is well-paced.

Not all tunes will resonate with every ear. It takes time for some to appreciate the histrionics of early music & when performed in a traditional manner with its unfamiliar tone. Yet, musicians like these make it all palatable. The proficiency is without question & no stodginess. What’s tricky is to perform this music as it borders on hokey country & western. Falling into the pit of “Hee Haw” would be easy. But as a showcase like “Travelin’ the Road West,” teeters on this fence one must realize it’s played with expertise, not hokum.

“Poland” follows with a carnival-type accordion & jester flute. The performance is marvelous if not a little out of place. They’re not as transformative as Fairport Convention but the duo performs carefully & with poignancy. Theirs is not so much a performance as enlightenment. “Handsome Medley,” places them in the same arena as Fairport – it’s that good.

The most commercial cut is “Winnemucca,” — an instantly enjoyable melody with a straightforward vocal run in a tone along the brim of Stevie Nicks. Excellent.

Having fun with doo-wop as a traditional song “Woe Is Me,” lets loose with a hootenanny-edge & though it’s shy of novelty – it’s indeed cool.

The CD is available at their website:

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