Scrimshaw is the third studio album from American folk singer and former Kerrville Folk Festival award winner Nels Andrews. Written and recorded in New York, it has, in the grand tradition of introspective folk, a sailing/fishing theme running throughout. Scrimshaw is the name given to the practice of carving inscriptions onto the bones of marine animals. In the days when whalers would be waiting months on end for the next whale sighting, they would carve patterns and inscriptions on whale bones to pass the time – a kind of doodling on a grand, romantic scale.
In some ways this is what this record boils down to – stray observations distilled into stirringly poetic song. Andrews has the ability to turn seemingly small stories into epic tales with a wonderfully evocative turn of phrase or a simple but piercing observation. The songs were written in the evening: reflective downtime for Andrews who was juggling his job as a chauffeur with looking after his infant son during the day.
The result is a sparsely presented and strikingly intimate album that combines deft storytelling with a warmth of tone and gentleness of pace.
Songs such as ‘Tridents‘, ‘Starboard‘, ‘Flotsam‘ and ‘Small Victories‘ tell tales of love, ambition and fleeting moments of failure and triumph. The sweet ‘Wisteria‘ is a love story about the ‘relationship’ between a brownstone and the flowering vine that clings to its facade. Scrimshaw is awash with layers, metaphors and echoes woven into subtle, contemplative contemporary song.
Andrews’s voice is typically warm and welcoming, as if he’s inviting you in for a moment to hear about his day. There are echoes of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Ziggy Stardust era David Bowie in his songcraft, but at heart it’s a simple folk record moulded, embellished and enriched by the inventive production of Todd Sickafoose (Tiny Resistors, Ani DiFranco, Anais Mitchell, Andrew Bird), whose experimental soundscapes add ethereal textures in all the right places. Like finding a seashell at the back of a dusty cupboard, putting it to your ear and hearing the ocean.
Review by: Rachel Devine
Srimshaw is self-released on June 11th 2012