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the end, Crittenden stepped into the breach. “Michael told me: ‘When I attended Berklee, I used to write B3 parts for class.’ So he played the B3.” Bettye LaVette’s guitarist, Brett Lucas also contributes: “That’s my brother-in-law. He’s always gone with Bettye, so for him to be home was really cool.” TILT-A-WHIRL sees Jen Sygit sing on five songs, including her contribution on St. Jude; their voices complementing each other’s perfectly: “She’s from Lancing, Michigan and has two albums out. There’s something about the way we sing, like John Gorka and Lucy Kaplansky, I can really envision us working together. She’s amazing; a little spitfire.” I asked Drew how he and Michael had approached the


sessions on this occasion: “On ninety percent of this record, the band is playing live. That was a new approach for me. We overdubbed a few things, but not many. I went in and redid the vocal, because it gets real soupy when singing over all the instruments.” Apart from what appeared to be their great working relationship, was there a particular quality that Michael Crittenden, the producer, possessed. “He’s a great psychologist and knows exactly how to motivate people. With some folks he’s real sweet and encouraging. Alternatively, sometimes he gets me really mad, just to get the take.” “We were overdubbing Drew Howard’s Dobro solo on Dust.


We ran his acoustic Dobro through a distortion pedal and out through an amp, so he’s already upset that we are doing this,” he laughs. “He plays a solo. Michael leaned over and said: ‘If we were making a demo that would have been a pretty good solo, but damn it we’re making a record—do it again.’ Nobody could believe that Michael said that. Drew got mad and the next take is the solo that you hear on Dust. He can get performances out of people that I don’t think they know they have.” Drew had mentioned earlier on in our conversation that he


had to pluck up the courage to contact Red House. Following the demise of founder, Bob Feldman, Eric Peltoniemi (the label’s first employee) was appointed label president. “We had pitched them DUSTY ROAD TO BEULAH LAND and nothing came of it. One time I was playing there and stopped in, unannounced, at Red House’s Minneapolis office. In Eric’s office, on his filing cabinet, there was a copy of BEULAH LAND. I thought that was neat. Once we had the finance in place, I called Eric and told him: ‘I’m making a record. As we go along, would it be okay if I sent you MP3s?’ He said: ‘I’d love to hear what you’re doing.’ That’s how it started.” Having completed the recording, on the next occasion


that Drew was performing in Minneapolis, he set up a lunch appointment with Eric. “He started pitching Red House to me, which was bizarre. I was sitting there thinking: ‘Shouldn’t I be pitching me to him?’ My approach was: ‘I don’t want you to think that I’m a bigger deal than I am. I’m still trying to figure out, am I touring enough and all that stuff.’ Then Eric said the neatest thing: ‘I love this record and I’d like to put it out.’ By then, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Since the age of nineteen, I had wanted to be on Red House Records, so we shook hands. From there it took a year for the album to come out. They have been absolutely wonderful to me.” I asked Drew what his thoughts had been before the


recording sessions: “I was going to make an album that I really wanted to listen to. I didn’t want it to be labelled musically. I was going to have fun making a rock‘n’roll record—I wanted to do something that I really felt in my heart, so the rock record is the one that the folk label signs. I don’t know how that works,” he laughs. “So many people, in so many different little ways, have


Brian Langlinais and Drew Nelson


helped make this record possible. I feel really lucky to be a part of it, and humbled that it’s here. Forty year old guys don’t get record deals every day. That’s not lost on me. These folks have taken a risk, and I really want to live up to the faith that they have shown in me.” Rodney Bursiel’s unique approach to photography has graced


recent albums by Grace Pettis, The Waymores, Carrie Elkin, Danny Schmidt and now, Drew Nelson. “Red House took this record, and didn’t change a thing on it.


They didn’t change the song order; they didn’t say: ‘We need a little more organ here.’ When they suggested who they wanted for the artwork, and who they wanted to master it, I said: ‘You guys make records all the time, you know what you’re doing, I’m not going to get in the middle.’ They contacted Rodney. I was coming down to Texas to work on the release of the DARK RIVER compilation album, and it worked out that we could do the photos. He’s just a dear man, and we’ve become friends.” On the album cover, a barefoot Drew—with his left leg


raised behind him—is playing guitar, whilst off to his left, in the background, a wooden chair is tilted up on one-leg. Whose idea had it been for this particular shot? “We were in this old warehouse, taking shots inside and outside. With photographs, I never know what to do with myself or where to look. Rodney really put me at ease. The chair was just there in the warehouse.” TILT-A-WHIRL is a fairground ride designed, around the late


1920s, and was manufactured by Sellner Manufacturing of Faribault, Minnesota. We call them waltzers nowadays. To design the ride, Herbert Sellner sat his young son on a chair and rocked it back and forth on top of the kitchen table. Drew commented: “You’re kidding. I don’t think Rodney knows that. That’s wild. Like I said earlier, I feel like I’ve been along for the ride on this whole thing, so there you go. To use the name TILT- A-WHIRL we made a donation to the Amusement Park Hall of Fame and Museum, which I was more than happy to do.” Suffice to say, the cover picture is a clear case of accidental serendipity. Had Drew any final thoughts about his latest recording? “I


didn’t make a record till I was twenty-seven. I feel with TILT-A- WHIRL I’m really finding my voice, and I’m still trying to move forward as a writer.” As for the friend who enabled the making of TILT-A-WHIRL: “I’m thrilled to say I’ve been able to pay him back.” Arthur Wood


Maverick 57


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