Grant Nielsen is a nice guy. I mean, a really nice
guy. Not the kind of nice guy who lends you his lawnmower, though I'm sure if he had one, he'd be happy to lend it to you. Nielsen spends a huge amount of his personal time promoting the local music scene in a number of different ways. He's an active producer of local concerts, usually at one of the clubs in the Downtown Elbow area. He's always offering his graphic arts skills to local musicians for free or at cut rates. And, unlike this writer, he rarely has an unkind word regarding his musical brethren.
He's just that kind of guy. Which makes it hard to remain objective when writing a review. His last words before I sat down to bang this thing out, sent to me via Facebook and in reference to his new release: "Hope you don't hate it ."
My response: "I will. Don't worry ."
Good news is, I don't hate it. Nielson, under the name JacksonVegas, officially releases Someday Is as Good as Any Day at a show on Saturday, Jan. 31 at Underbelly. Here's
my take on it, with the songs reviewed in order of appearance.
"Chip Away" is a breezy album-opener, underpinned by well-orchestrated acoustic-and-keyboard arrangement. It's a strong piece, melodic as hell, if a bit Dixie Chicks in tone. (OK, let me explain. With Nielsen's voice, one might not initially think Dixie Chicks. Remove his vocals, however, and superimpose the female trio, and the song could easily fit on a Dixie Chicks album. For clarification, I love the
Dixie Chicks, especially the work they did with Rick Rubin.)
Nielsen is a fantastic singer, when he avoids slipping into the Chad Kroeger zone. Yes, the loser frontman for Nickelback. It only happens once or twice on Someday, but most noticeably in "Chip Away" during the chorus. Otherwise, this contends for the best song on the record, moving from a mellow intro into a soaring mid-section. In fact, other than the whole Kroeger thing, this song may be nearly flawless. Especially the arrangement. The band, whose members varied throughout the years-long recording process, strikes a perfect balance of power and grace. And the background vocals are just beautiful.
Track 2, "By My Side," opens like The Cars' "My Best Friend's Girlfriend," but we get past that quickly enough. Big, fat distorted guitars and a distant Rhodes fill the space while Nielsen sings about his girl. Nielson seems to write somewhere in between hard country and harder Americana. It is, for the most part, a great combination. Though "By My Side" isn't my favorite track on the record, it certainly holds up until the last verse, when the straight four-rock feel morphs into a bouncy shuffle. That only lasts for a moment, but it took me out of the song. A minor quibble, but one I couldn't deny. Again, the background vocals are wonderful.
This is where I will break from popular opinion, but the third entry, "Only Your Soul," is too formulaic to be liked. It's got that intolerable indie-band tom-tom groove paired with that unison-vocal-paired-with-the-piano-line thing that's so damn popular right now. I get it. Gotta stay relevant in the market, and it's a guaranteed heartstring-puller. But this stuff has never appealed to me. (Yes, Grant, I hated this one.)
"Some Kind of Stranger" comes back with deep groove, thick guitars and Nielsen singing the way he does best — naturally and without affectation. It's a simple, to-the-point mid-tempo rocker backed by spare synth line, you know, to keep it modern. Good stuff.
"Within Your Skin," which Nielsen says will soon be made into a flip-book-style animated music video, borders on that indie band contrivance I mentioned earlier, but it's too fetching to be hated. Blatantly McCartneyesque, this song is nearly a masterwork of pop balladry. Melodic and smooth, lyrically strong, this is the kind of piece songwriters strive to write and so often fall short. I can't write enough good things about this song without sounding mushy, so let's just say it's a must-listen — and the other contender for best song on the record.
"Now That's My Home" winds things up with a rednecky blues, supported by a slinky slide guitar and some nasty tremolo guitars. Swampy and groovy, the tune is again enhanced by its background vocals. About halfway through, we are treated to a double-time hoedown, so you could even mosh to it, if the mood strikes.
If you pick up the album, be sure to dig into the liner notes. The list of players and production team reads like a roster of Jacksonville's MVPs. Too many, again, to list here, but worthy of praise in their own right. Nielsen has made many friends on the local scene, and rightly so. He's a hard worker and a genuine character.
And, to be clear, he sounds like Chad Kroeger for a total of only about 30 cumulative seconds on this record.
Don't hold that against him.
JacksonVegas holds a release party for Someday Is as Good as Any Day with Master Radical and Pilotwave at 10 p.m. Jan. 31 at Underbelly,
113 E. Bay St., Downtown, $10.