Don’t Be Afraid
If the brand new album, Don’t Be Afraid isn’t quite as good – as a whole – as last year’s tremendous Dynamite! then, at the very least, it contains a small handful of moments that, taken individually, provide greater highlights. And with time it’ll feel every bit as good as Dynamite, maybe a little better. Certainly the Marlon Williams duet, Lonely, is a home run. And here we hear not only the stuff Neilson has shown she can do effortlessly, such as the Patsy Cline-esque Only Tears. Don’t Be Afraid brims with songwriting ideas/styles/arrangements – the Los Lobos-like groove attached to the Latin-influenced Loco Mama, and then the weepies such as Heavy Heart and The First Man, it’s a triumph not only for Neilson but again for co-producers Ben Edwards and Delaney Davidson, for the top-notch, kick-ass musical combo that features the stunning rhythm section of Ben Woolley (bass) and Joe McCallum (drums) – they just knocked it out of the park on Delaney’s new album too, by the way – and Dave Khan is on hand for extra guitars and strings, a little touch of pedal steel from Red McKelvie too.
Actually, it’s all pretty hard to fault – once again. Dynamite seemed to kick and drive and was something of a genuine surprise to my ears, for it was a falling into place of a sound I had been previously unconvinced by. Here I expect something great – and yet I’m still kinda wowed by just how great this is.
The title track – which opens the record – was the last song written by Neilson’s father, Ron. His passing at the start of this year perhaps threatened to derail the record at one point, to delay it; his passing most certainly informs it and ultimately inspired it. There’s his last song sounding resplendent, a proud opener – finished off by his son and daughter (Tami’s songwriting brother Jay lending a hand) – and then we hear the ghostly sketch of the song to bookend the album, Ron’s original demo.
In between there’s some spit and fury on the Tom Jones-does-gospel-sounding Holy Moses (remember his fantastic Praise and Blame album) and a little bit of Dr. John-goes-campfire on So Far Away. Delaney and band are fast becoming expert groove-conjurers, they so perfectly summon the spirit of so many different tropes and trappings and musical pasts without ever directly lifting. But in the end this album’s triumph is that, once again, it’s the perfect marriage of band and singer, of sound and song. Neilson and crew have the songs and the right way to frame them. And this is really an incredible follow-up to a ripper of a record. I’m still getting to know this one, but already I want to reconsider my opening comment. This is, in its own way, the equal of Dynamite at least. It might even be better, but most importantly it’s different, sister volumes then, companion pieces, two essential records in two years. That’s some feat. That’s a lot of great music. And again no filler here. Just fully realised ideas. It’s a class act all the way.