Monday, January 14, 2019

Paul Nelson: “Over Under Through” (2019) CD Review

What first got me excited to listen to Over Under Through was the fact that Ellis Paul provides some backing vocals on one of its tracks. I’ve been a fan of his music since the late 1980s when I saw him open for Roger McGuinn at the Old Vienna Kaffeehaus (remember that place?). But it wasn’t long before Paul Nelson’s style and vibe had me completely under his spell. There is just something arresting about the sound of this album. It is somewhat dark, somewhat haunted, but with an underlying hope. Besides Ellis Paul, he has several other talented musicians helping him out on this release, including Kevin Barry on guitar and lap steel, John Sands on drums and percussion, Richard Gates on bass, Paul Kochanski on bass, Tom Eaton on keys and percussion, and Jeff Oster on flugelhorn and trumpet. All but one of the songs on this album were written by Paul Nelson.

The album opens with “Go Down Ezekiel,” which has a cool, slow, dark blues vibe, with a steady rhythm that you can feel in your heart. “Move out a bit further/Move out further still/It’s only when you leave the shoreline/Oh, brother, you will be filled.” Tom Eaton adds some work on rain sticks on this track. That’s followed by “Ghost In The Basement,” which also has a somewhat haunting vibe even before the song’s first line about the ghost, “There’s a ghost in the basement, I know she’s there.” Paul Nelson’s vocal delivery, and that wonderful guitar part over that raw steady thump of the drums quickly draw me in until I feel emerged in the world of this song. This is one of my personal favorites, in part because of lines like “Should I turn on the light so she can see?/Or leave her in the dark just like me” and “And I’m chained to her by choice, I guess,” but also because of Kristin Cifelli’s presence on backing vocals, which gives the song a beauty and something of an uplifting quality. Also, there is something angelic in her deliver, and it is almost like she is the ghost, and she too is asking how long it will be until she is free to move on. It’s an interesting idea, that they are both haunted by each other, wondering when they can move on. Kristin Cifelli also adds her voice to the following track, “Color It Blue,” her work here having quite a different effect than on “Ghost In The Basement.” What I really dig about this track is the addition of horns approximately halfway through.

“Secret” has a groovy, mellow vibe and features some nice work on lap steel by Kevin Barry. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Well, I’ve got a secret/I’ve been keeping for some time/One I’ve been saying is dead/Still very much alive, still very much alive.” That’s followed by “Lay A Little,” which has a sweet, pretty folk sound. Something about this one makes me feel relaxed and hopeful. “Crawling out from the wreckage of/Broken trust and shattered dreams/Tried to make our way back to the start/And find ourselves some peace.” Kristin Cifelli again joins Paul Nelson on vocals. I love the addition of flugelhorn on “Alice Mullins,” a song that has a sweet, comforting Van Morrison-type vibe. “There’s a girl who can chase these blues away/With eyes the color of an autumn day.”

Ellis Paul joins Paul Nelson on vocals for the album’s sole cover, Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line.” Ellis is a big Cash fan (his “Kick Out The Lights” about Johnny Cash is a fan favorite during live performances), so it makes perfect sense that he would sing on this one. This is a mellow, thoughtful, unusual take on the song, with some pretty work on lap steel. Kristin Cifelli contributes vocal work to the track as well. That’s followed by “Relative Work.” The lines that stand out for me from this one are “We’re surely on the long decline/Well, we gotta make the best of times.”  Then “Silent Majority” has more of a blues rock sound. Kristin Cifelli and Nickie Fuller join Paul Nelson on vocals on this one. “Will you join the majority/Or say what needs to be said/Violence isn’t the remedy/To injustice that plagues our land/But let your words be a sword/In love take a stand.” Does that bridge halfway through remind you a bit of “Hey Bulldog”? “One well-placed stone of truth/Can make a giant fall/You don’t need money or power/To plant the seeds of change.” That’s followed by “Over Under Through,” the album’s title track, a song with a serious, engaging sound. I dig the trumpet that rises in the distance and moves through us. And is that a talking drum? “Over the mountain of sorrows/Under the crashing waves/Through the valley of pain and suffering/To the land where freedom waits.” The disc then concludes with “There Is Weeping,” a soulful tune with some wonderful backing vocals by Kristin Cifelli and Nickie Fuller. This is a positive tune, a good one with which to finish the album. “Rise up, open your eyes/Wake, o’ sleeper, from your rest/Only you and I can be the feet and the hands/To bring a song of hope to the world.”

CD Track List
  1. Go Down Ezekiel
  2. Ghost In The Basement
  3. Color It Blue
  4. Secret
  5. Lay A Little
  6. Alice Mullin
  7. I Walk The Line
  8. Relative Work
  9. Silent Majority
  10. Over Under Through
  11. There Is Weeping 
Over Under Through is scheduled to be released on January 25, 2019 on Riverwide Records.


  1. This is amazing! Best wishes for a great album!

  2. Nice insights, Michael. And you are spot on with the ghost. During the recording we realized that the entity would be also longing to be free. So with each chorus Kristin’s vocal is turned up slightly until the last time through our volumes are about the same. And the last time through she echoes my lines. Thanks for listening!