The Nields

Bob on the Ceiling

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The Nields' Bob on the Ceiling is that unique kind of disc that's best described as a transition album. It's that record where an artist or group who heretofore has specialized in one kind of music suddenly switches gears and pursues a different sound. In general, these records are often the only precursors to the real breakthrough. Think of Bob Dylan's one-two combination of Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited; the first may have him on the road to his new musical persona, but it was on the second that he really came into his own. And while the Nields certainly aren't as revolutionary a musical force as Dylan, Bob on the Ceiling can be labeled as their Bringing It All Back Home. It was on this record that the folk trio of Nerissa Nields, Katryna Nields, and David Nields added bassist Dave Chalfant to the lineup and took their first tentative steps toward rock. One can hear the group's nervousness and excitement at being able to cut loose with electric instruments on the album's very first track, "Be Nice to Me." The song begins quietly, as if it was a holdover from one of their folk albums. But the simple chord-strumming is quickly joined by a wailing guitar riff and driving drum beat that gets a listener's foot tapping almost instantly. It's a great opening track, particularly for those who are familiar with the Nields' earlier work and can hear how they are adapting themselves to this new sound. On several tracks the band actually makes this job of comparison easier by setting their old folk songs to a rock beat. Some of these refurbished tunes, like the album's final song, "Just Like Christopher Columbus," are actually improvements on the folk version, but others, such as "Ash Wednesday," don't benefit from the addition of louder instruments. In general, the best songs on Bob on the Ceiling are the originals. "Merry Christmas, Mr. Jones," a wrenching song about a pregnant teenager, is one such standout. So is "James," which provides singers Katryna and Nerissa Nields with a showcase for their considerable vocal chops. Despite these highlights, Bob on the Ceiling remains a mixed bag. It's obvious that the Nields are still getting used to their new identity, trying to find a style that suits them. Sure enough, two years later the band would produce the infinitely superior Gotta Get Over Gretta, where they finally emerged as a cohesive rock group, confident and proud of their distinctive sound.

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