In his mix of moody, atmospheric and sometimes upbeat offerings on The Devil’s River, Shawn Nelson waits until the last song, “At Barton Springs,” to tell us, “The chances we take is the life we make.” That should be common wisdom, although we seldom seem to think of it. At least not consciously.
The 11 songs on Nelson’s sixth album take listeners thoughtfully through love and lost love, honky-tonks and hard times, thoughts drunken desperados and chili and tacos, a little whiskey in the coffee cup, working life far from home, of mortality, and more.
On the opening, title song, Nelson’s somewhat rough country voice vaguely reminds of Waylon Jennings as he tells the tale of a man who’s apparently near the end of his run.
“Tighten Up” is an old-style sounding honky-tonk song with “blood, sweat, and whiskey on the guitar strings.”
On the Spanish-flavored “Medina,” a man working in the oil fields yearns for the life he knew in his hometown.
The upbeat honky-tonk gospel “Deliver Me” is the lament of a man who can’t seem to get it right.
Nelson gets it right here. He wrote all of the songs including one co-write each with Will Dupuy and Fletcher Murchison. Dupuy adds upright bass and harmonica and Murchison mandolin. The other musicians are Wayne Sutton (lead guitar), Noah Jeffries (fiddle), Patrick Herzfeld (drums and piano), Morgan Patrick Thompson (bass), Matt B. Lara (accordion), and Bill Terry (steel guitar).