Meet the Nell & Jim Band, who have a new album – Steel – dropping February 15. Produced and engineered by John Cunibert of Sammy Hagar and Joe Satriani fame, Steel features a dozen tasty Americana tracks from one of NorCal’s most popular and vibrant bands.
With a sound embracing folk, bluegrass, roots, swing, jazz, blues, and Americana, the Nell & Jim Band is made up of superlative musicians: Nell Robinson (flute, vocals), Jim Nunally (guitar, vocals), Jim Kerwin (bass fiddle), Jon Arkin (percussion), and Rob Reich (accordion, keyboards).
Nunally and Robinson hooked up, when Nunally co-produced Robinson’s album. Because of their musical chemistry, the duo put together an album, House & Garden. Not long afterwards, the duo added a stellar trio of musicians – Reich, Arkin, and Kerwin – to the lineup. The quintet released Baby Let’s Take The Long Way Home in 2015, and began working on new music for Steel while on tour.
The album’s title – Steel – refers back to when Nunally worked steel for a living.
“It’s a story about a time in my life. Like so many musicians I had a day job – and mine was welding on oil rigs and bridges, working with my hands, welding – but I played my guitar at night at gigs and bars, before I gained success and could dedicate my life to music.”
Speaking subjectively, entry points on the album include a song by Doc Watson, called “Shady Grove/Matty Groves.” The first half of the song features Reich’s accordion, giving the tune resonant energy. When the music shifts gears, going into “Matty Groves,” Robinson takes over the vocal duties with aplomb.
For listeners hankering after the flavor of bluegrass, “Dime In My Pocket” is just what the doctor ordered. Nunally’s reedy voice infuses the tune with marvelous textures. A personal favorite, “Red Clay Creek” rides a smooth folk-country melody that conjures up memories of Joan Baez. And if luscious twang accompanied by picking guitars and a banjo tickles your fancy, then listen to “Man At The Mill.”
One of the best and most captivating tracks is “Meditation Blues,” on which Nunally delivers a stunning a cappella performance.
Steel is superb, full of complex colors, intricate textures, and alluring rhythms, along with charming vocals and flawless instrumental performances.