MANCHESTER, NH — Don’t call it a comeback — even though it is, in some ways. But for Paul Nelson, his CD release party on Saturday night at Jupiter Hall after a stint of a self-exile from the scene is really just the next leg of what has been a lifelong journey toward his musical destination.
With this new release, “Over Under Through,” Nelson has arrived. It reflects the fullness of the journey, says Nelson, who was inspired to write the title track only after coming up with the perfect album title.
“I was listening to a song where a girl was singing, ‘over and over and over,” and it got me thinking about what would I say about life,” says Nelson. “That’s when I came up with over, under, through.”
Nelson, 58, was finding his groove as part of the open mic circuit during the mid-90s before taking a break to raise his kids. During that time he met prolific singer-songwriter Ellis Paul, a connection that would resurface in 2017 in a mighty way.
“He was helping me with some career mentoring and after he heard me play, he asked me to open for him,” says Nelson, the beginning of a series of lucky breaks that has led him back to where he’s always belonged, making music.
“I was totally a guy who’d left the music scene. I had no contacts — a year or two away and the names change, things change. Ellis hooked me up with Tom Eaton on the Seacoast, who’s heavily related to a guy named Will Ackerson, who started the Windham Hill label – a big new age label in the 1990s and 2000s. Anyway, he sold the label and has his own studio now in Newburyport, and Tom Eaton is his right-hand man,” says Nelson.
Nelson began recording songs resulting in a demo, which they sent around to various session musicians up and down the New England coast.
“You wouldn’t believe the people who responded — it’s serendipitous,” Nelson says. “A guy named Kevin Barry, who’s all over Paula Cole’s albums when she was making the scene in the 90s, he was her guitarist. He also plays with Ray Lamontagne.”
Also digging Nelson’s demo, drummer John Sands, who joined the project after returning from a tour with Aimee Mann.
“I have to pinch myself. These are the session musicians on the album, all musicians of this caliber, and they’re all coming up to support this album release event at Jupiter Hall,” says Nelson. “To have them all in one place at one time, the sound will be pretty cool, and for Dan and Katie Berube to have this at their place, is pretty special.”
Over, under and through the years between high school and now, Nelson served in the Marine Corps on a nuclear submarine for six years and then worked on the Seacoast at the nuclear plant. He now works for Stonyfield Farms when he’s not making music.
He’s also the son of a preacher man and grew up in the church, which is why you’ll hear a gospel vibe mixed in with his “bluesy jazzy rocky folky thing.”
He credits Ellis Paul for helping him lock into his style.
“Since then songs have been popping out, you know, when you don’t fight what you’re supposed to do, it just flows out,” Nelson says.
When he was ready to play live again, he dipped his toes back into the musical waters at an open mic at the Local Moose here in Manchester.
“(Owner) Natalia (Umpierrez) loved my music, and every time I asked to play, she said yes,” says Nelson.
The best part of his second act so far has been embracing who he has become as an artist.
“A lot of people have been giving me advice, telling me “you have wisdom now,” you know, you won’t make the same decisions a 20 year old will make,” Nelson says. “Life has informed me who I am as an artist. I’ve really grown and found the sound that is really me.”
Nelson will be perform a two-set show in a welcoming listening room setting accompanied by New England folk and blues icons including guitarist Kevin Barry, drummer John Sands, Richard Gates on electrict bass, Paul Kochanski on upright, and vocalists Kristin Cifelli and Nickie Fuller.
Listen: Below, “Color it Blue” from Paul Nelson’s new release, “Over, Under, Through,” will be featured on 92.5 FM The River as part of their Homegrown Artist Showcase.