Nels Andrews – Off Track Betting

Album Review | Reveal | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5

“Sunday Shoes” was always going to be a hard act to follow, but Nels Andrews handles this new set of nine self-penned songs on Off Track Betting with intelligent assurance.  Todd Sickafoose’s production is somewhat reminiscent of Daniel Lanois particularly in his attention to detail, but is spared the over-indulgence.  I normally tire quickly of the overuse of sound effects on acoustic music, but on this production, the effects help create a specific mood.  Throughout the album Andrews employs a multitude of weird and wonderful instruments, utilizing the harp, a klezmer banjo, some assorted sampled electronics, the odd toy piano as well as making the best use of a wine glass orchestra since Robin Williamson treated us to a skin full on his ode to the celebrated Welsh bard in “For Mr Thomas” in the Eighties.  The industrious use of percussion on “Sunday Shoes” (shouldn’t this have been on the first album?) is reminiscent of post Swordfishtrombones Tom Waits.  It’s all there to mimic the sounds of the city we are led to believe and surprisingly it doesn’t jar.  Outside the city and back on the road appears to be more familiar territory for Andrews as he follows the heart worn highways of America on “Three Days”, a road song that Steve Earle would be proud of.  Andrews criss-crosses the landscape of America, if not in the footsteps of Dean Moriarty, then certainly in the shadow of Sal Paradise.  He’s an observer of the road, and it comes through his music loud and clear, particularly on “Rented White Sedan”.  For all intents and purposes, Off Track Betting has temporarily replaced the bebop of Charlie Parker for the soundtrack to Kerouac’s bestseller, if only for a while.  If this is the evolving route for all things Americana, then it’s fine by me.