Album Review: San Juan Street

Record Review -
San Juan Street

by Tom Geddie

Shawn Nelson’s FOURTH CD, San Juan Street, comes out of a wide range of influences ranging from Tex-Mex to reggae to bluegrass delivered with a downright country voice and, on most of the songs, country instrumentation and playing. His influences, he says, include the brass band of New Orleans, Robert Earl Keen, and Guy Clark’s advice to study Townes Van Zandt’s songwriting.

Nelson’s rough-hewn voice is good enough to get by. He’s skilled with lyrics, and had a stint as a corporate songwriter in Nashville. “Nobody Got A Hold On Me” is an upbeat, repetitive country-folk song
about freedom.

The country-sounding, almost gospel “Dreams in the Desert” shares the notions that hope is on the highway but “promise and passion, faith in the fallen . . . you pray, you dream, you beg, you plead, but it don’t change a thing.”

Among the 14 songs, Nelson’s nods to New Orleans on this one are “Hit the Road” and “Anna Lee,” two sad, very human songs about the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.

He delves into a kind of cosmic consciousness and in “Hollow Moon” and protests the rape of the land in
“Babylon.” Neither is the usual fare for country, whatever “usual” is these days; he strays from the clichés and stereotypes, which is a good thing.

Joel Guzman produced. The players are Nelson’s band, The Ramblers, plus Matt Slusher on electric
mandolin, Will Dupuy on upright bass), Trisha Keefer on fiddle, Ephraim Owens on trumpet, and a
handful of other folks.