One of Denmark's most acclaimed roots artists is back with his third album, Jericho Road. As with his previous albums, Against The Dying of the Light (2007) and The Man of the Fall (2012), Nielsen has crafted an album of traditional Americana roots music that feels immediately familiar. His voice conjures up images of tumbleweeds majestically rolling across the prairie, and leaves you with a thirst for a whiskey.
"The Jericho Road is where we stumble and hope for the help of others. It's where we either look to the side of reach out when we meet someone in need. It's where we either live up to our responsibility or where we miserably fail," says Nielsen of the title.
With themes of faith, doubt, and mercy, the album draws on biblical elements throughout, creating something that feels almost mythical. As well as Jericho Road which is taken from the Gospel of Luke, there is also Snake Handler and Help Me In My Unbelief, both of which are inspired by sections of the Gospel of Mark. There are nods to Western mythology too, most notably in Ethan Edwards (and Me), based on the classic film, The Searchers, starring John Wayne. It was a film that both captivated and terrified Nielsen, and has clearly left a big impression upon him.
Parenting features in a couple of songs. You Can't Escape is about loss and memories, an ode to Nielsen's father ("I remember the weight of your heavy coffin; too late for regrets and apologies"). Lullaby covers the anxiety and worry that a parent faces, and the need to instil confidence in one's offspring whatever the cost. Nielsen quotes Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and "The Night of the Hunter" as touching points, which should tell you everything about the darkness that lies at the heart of the song.
The first half of the album is undoubtedly stronger, with the stand out track perhaps being Twentieth Century; the horrors of war across the 20th Century seen through the eyes of an eternal soldier. It's a wonderfully dark, brooding song to kick off the album. The album does end strongly however, with The Absinthe Drinker (a tribute to Baudelaire and Manet), and Don't You Weep; a relationship song about responsibility and impotence which almost matches Twentieth Century for sheer quality.
Nielsen's inspirations are clear. Johnny Cash is the most obvious touchpoint, but there's more than a little Hank Williams in the mix too, and at times the vocals are reminiscent of Kris Kristofferson. While his music doesn't deviate from tradition, this does give it a timeless quality. These are not happy songs, though there is just a sliver of hope which threads through the entire album. There is a great deal of weight and depth behind them, which means you get more from this with every listen.
Dark and brooding, but majestic in inception and execution, this is a strong piece of traditional Americana that is well worthy of all the plaudits that should be coming its way.
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