David Nelson Band

Keeper of the Key

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The second album by the David Nelson Band, recorded live at Baltimore's Eight by Ten Club in the summer of 1995, finds the band in fine form. Unlike old pal Garcia's perfect fractured warble, Nelson has a slightly flat but bold voice that gives the songs a honky tonk, rather than folksy, authority, albeit not coloring them with quite the same distinction as Garcia did for the Grateful Dead. His guitar leads, on the other hand, are nearly the equal of Garcia's and pay the same attention to space and timing, not overpowering the songs but rather playing exactly what is required. With Barry Sless' guitar thrown in, the music is like holding hands. In fact, all the bandmembers contribute beautifully to the overall psychedelic country-rock sound. Their arrangement of Bob Dylan's "Wicked Messenger" gives plenty of space for each instrumentalist to solo, and each takes advantage, with Mookie Siegel's organ work standing out. The band's retooling of "Impressionists Two-Step," an obscure pop song by Pop Wagner that is actually about the Impressionist painters, delves into carefree zydeco. With Nelson's fluid guitar leads on songs such as "Wizard's Son" and the unwavering rhythmic backdrop, DNB can sometimes come much closer to Dire Straits than any other band, and occasionally the music can take on a repetitiveness that detracts from a listener's interest. The finest accomplishment on the album -- and perhaps, tellingly, the moment during which the band most resembles the Dead -- is the suite "See So Far/Sage & Egg." Unobtrusive wah-wah guitar and Siegel's organ take the song into very spacy territory full of mystery and shifting dynamics, and the band responds in kind, namely Arthur Steinhorn, who adds some interesting drum fills. DNB tear into the Grateful Dead standard "The Wheel," consistently one of the band's most requested numbers, and they more than do the song justice. Robert Hunter contributes lyrics to three of the tunes, but in the context of the DNB, which is not nearly as mystical as the Grateful Dead, they seem to lose the slightest bit of force. They are still excellent contributions, and the David Nelson Band, in general, are successfully holding onto the key, if not necessarily dramatically opening new doors.

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