NOLEN SELLWOOD – Otherwise (New Folk Records)

OtherwiseA Minneapolis teenager inspired to get into folk after listening to Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, Sellwood’s debut, Otherwise, opens with ‘This Time’, simply strummed acoustic giving way to drums and electric which sustain the lengthy playout, his voice suggesting a softer, less intense Luke Jackson on a reflective love song (“Don’t know how good it gets when I’m within your might/So I have been thinking about this time/And the memories that fuel my life/And the strength of effervescent lights/ And dreams will only be sweet if you are in them”).

Piano adding to the textures, a similar theme of salvation underpins the lost soul ‘To Be Saved’ (“You were like an angel/but I was not/I was not worthy to be saved”), his way with words finely illustrated in the lines “I don’t know how long it will take/To find someone to not forsake/Like an angel with nobody to save”.

The Drake guitar influences can be heard on the fingerpicked intimately sung ‘Sands Of Mine’, a song about drawing the line on a dysfunctional  relationship “Talking down to those all around never wanting life along with your strife”. There’s hints there too of John Martyn and even more so on the jazz and blues inflections of ‘This Is For Someone’ with its delicate background strings, holding out for a love that warrants the commitment (“someone who will be worth the time/For the laughter which shines so bright/Who can lift my soul up high, like a kite”) because “love is something that cannot be bought”.

There’s more nimble fingerpicking on the 60s hippie folk coloured ‘Going For The Sun’ while a rockier sensibility informs the sinewy ‘Eccentric Eyes’ that calls to mind early Harper and Stewart where he finds himself coming up short (“Please just tell me what you are missing here that/You get from other guys”) while professing “I’ve shown you all I’ve got to be shown/You’ll never be hurt/I’ll never abandon you here in the dirt”.

Judging by the musically understated, aching ‘Who Hasn’t Once’, she wasn’t overly impressed  (“all these years I spend with you wasn’t that much/For you to just find some others to take your touch/So I’m just left all alone/Away from your light and bound by your dark/How could you say through all this time?/I was okay, I was pretty nice”), as he  pleads “I know I’ve made mistakes, who hasn’t once?/Was it worth breaking my heart?

Things remain generally hushed and subtly arranged in the final stretch with the piano tinkled haze, drone and percussive shimmer of ‘Your Light’, the Martyn-esque title track which again finds him contemplating being dumped after all his best efforts (“It took a lot of time just to find a way/to get close to you/I gave you all I had just for the slim make something new/But since you’ve disappeared, and I’ve been standing over here”), its bluesy guitar outro giving way to the airy ambience and circular chiming notes and bowed bass (?) of ‘What I Wanted’ ending things on a note of obsession and confused feelings (“There had to be something out there/it’s hard to tell if this is what I wanted/Oh, how you infect my mind”).

An impressive debut that should start people talking, but if the conversations are going to continue he might look to broaden his somewhat restricted – if well executed – musical palette and subject matter for the next album.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Humid Rain’ – live:

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