"Welcome to the world of the working poor" sings Michigan troubadour Drew Nelson on Tilt-A-Whirl's opening track, "Promised Land," making it clear from the outset what kind of ride you're in for. Throughout the album, Nelson gives voice to the kind of blue-collar folks who have occupied songs by poets of the proletariat like Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, and Dave Alvin over the years. But Tilt-A-Whirl, Nelson's first release for the Red House label, arrives at a crucial time for such a writer. In the post-bank-bailout Occupy era, the plight of the working class (and of those less fortunate than them) has come more sharply into focus than ever before. It's no coincidence, for instance, that Springsteen's contemporaneous Wrecking Ball album turned out to be the Boss' most visceral, impactful outing in years. So if ever there were a moment for Nelson to shine, this would seem to be it. Fortunately for him and for us, he doesn't squander the opportunity, even though he probably didn't view things in that context when he put these songs together. Writing from the perspective of characters like the disenfranchised laborer in the aforementioned "Promised Land" and the star-crossed lovers in the migrant-worker-meets-small-town-farm-girl tale "Danny and Maria," Nelson sounds so natural that it's obvious this has been his métier for a good long while. This kind of writing isn't easy to do without descending into the Three P's: platitudes, pretension, or pedantry. That he's able to pull it off to begin with is impressive enough; keyboardist Michael Crittenden's sympathetic production, splitting the difference between full-bodied roots rock and folk-flavored Americana, puts Tilt-A-Whirl definitively over the top.
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AllMusic Review by James Allen