David Nelson Band Rides Again!
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 1999, Volume 6, #4
Written by John Metzger
These days, it's difficult to sort through the myriad of groups riding the jam-band tidal wave across the country. While many of these are quite enjoyable, there are few that truly excel at delivering spiritually moving, transcendental vision quests — the kind of musical odysseys that the Grateful Dead consistently delivered for years.
Since guitarist Jerry Garcia's passing, many bands have bubbled to the surface, and audiences have flocked to "jam-band" concerts in droves. There's no doubt these bands are striking a chord deep in the hearts of their fans. However, the end result at most of these affairs has left me wanting something more — a connection to that primal other-worldly spiritual essence that the Grateful Dead channeled so fluidly and freely.
I had just about abandoned hope of anyone ever again coming close to that magical realm when I stumbled upon the music of the David Nelson Band. That night in April 1997, the band gave a short opening set at the House of Blues in Chicago, performing five songs over the course of 45 minutes. The group traversed a tremendously vast musical terrain with an awesome display of power that was both beautiful and eerie. Needless-to-say, I was hooked as this was exactly for what I had been searching.
The group took its name from guitarist/vocalist David Nelson who has long been an important figure on the San Francisco music scene. Nelson performed with Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter in a bluegrass band called The Wildwood Boys long before the Grateful Dead even existed. His association with Jerry Garcia continued over the years through Garcia's side-projects New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band. In addition, Nelson also contributed to the classic Grateful Dead recordings American Beauty, Workingman's Dead, and Aoxomoxoa.
The remaining members of the band are equally talented and feature impressive resumés of their own. Drummer Arthur Steinhorn, bassist Bill Laymon, keyboardist Mookie Siegel, and guitarist Barry Sless have all crossed paths with each other and with members of the Grateful Dead through side projects like New Riders of the Purple Sage and Bob Weir's Kingfish and Ratdog. In addition, DNB has recently added a second drummer, newcomer Charlie Crane, who first worked with Steinhorn and Sless in Cowboy Jazz.
On April 7, DNB will release their third album and first full-length studio effort, Visions Under the Moon. The disc was recorded last September with the help of acclaimed record producer Aaron Hurwitz, who is best-known for his work on The Band's Jubilation, High on the Hog, and Jericho.
Naturally, given DNB's affinity for adventure, they chose to convert the Aladdin Theatre in Portland, Oregon into a make-shift recording studio. It proved to be a technical challenge for the band, but one they managed to overcome through solid perseverance and determination.
"It took a few days to get the kinks worked out and find our musical groove, but it happened," said Steinhorn. "Other than the need for overdubs, things went well. It was good working with Aaron, and although he wasn't prepared for our brand of music-making, by the end of the week he felt more at home with it and appreciated what we do."
The band added another twist to the process by inviting family and friends to the week-long recording session. This allowed them to capture the unique synergy that the group develops and shares with its audience over the course of each of their concert performances.
"The process that Visions Under the Moon took was certainly unorthodox," said Laymon. "The idea of setting up in the Aladdin Theatre was hip enough, and inviting audiences in helped to keep us honest in our game."
Siegel expounded, "The music on the new CD is a hybrid — live performances enhanced, in various degrees, in the studio. We feel that the CD combines the energy of a live performance with the creative possibilities available to us in a recording studio. The result is a record that offers something different than a strictly live performance or a studio album."
Interestingly, the entire process was videotaped by Rocket Labs for a yet-to-be-finalized documentary on the band. "All we know at this point," said Sless, "is that the film producer is looking to do an hour-long rockumentary about all the aspects of a band recording and being on the road. They have about eighty hours of film among three cameras. They filmed the entire process including rehearsals, our gig at Wavy Gravy's Hog Farm Pignic, checking into our hotels in Portland, setting up the theater to record, and every aspect of the recording process itself. They basically lived with us as part of our extended family for a week and captured as much of the adventure as they could."
One thing's for certain, Visions Under the Moon should garner DNB some much deserved attention. It's sure to be a high adventure, indeed.
Visions Under the Moon is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1999 The Music Box