Sarah Bethe Nelson

Fast Moving Clouds

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On her debut solo album, 2015's Fast Moving Clouds, Sarah Bethe Nelson sounds like a nice gal who is also nobody's fool, a combination that isn't so easy to pull off. With her soft, breathy voice and casual but effective phrasing, Nelson has a perfect instrument for smart, dreamy indie pop, but keep an ear peeled for her lyrics, and you'll quickly discover Nelson has a good head on her shoulders, has been around the block a time or two, and will only put up with other folks' nonsense for so long. The album's first breakout track, "Paying," isn't necessarily the best song on Fast Moving Clouds, but it sums up her persona and her songwriting brilliantly, as Nelson takes on the voice of a bartender who informs a man who's done her wrong that he's not getting free drinks anymore. You could easily make this into a sassy country number, but in Nelson's hands it's slow, quiet, and lands with the impact of a sledgehammer, as she makes her case without showboating but without letting any of her betrayal and disappointment go unnoticed. Nelson isn't bitter and struggling with heartache all the time -- there's a smirking wit in "Impossible Love," she's sneaky and seductive on "Black Telephone," and quietly determined in "We're Not Dead" -- but Fast Moving Clouds records the thoughts of a woman who knows just enough about life to not keep making the same mistakes, and despite the sweetness of her vocals, she can communicate a lot of emotions in her songs. The production (by Kelley Stoltz) and arrangements bring a sunny but thoughtful tone to the music, full of lackadaisically twangy guitars and muted tempos, and Fast Moving Clouds is superb smart pop for a lazy afternoon; it's also an impressive first salvo from Sarah Bethe Nelson, who as both a vocalist and a songwriter confirms she's an artist to watch.

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