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Sarah Bethe Nelson - Mental Picture LP

Sarah Bethe Nelson - Mental Picture LP

Speakeasy Studios SF

Regular price $24.98 USD
Regular price Sale price $24.98 USD
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Bay Area singer-songwriter Sarah Bethe Nelson’s multiple albums of balladry and pop chart an emotional wave of the multifarious and sometimes tumultuous changes of the area’s landscape. Her latest is no exception. Enter Mental Picture, a collection of aftershock spectral tunes ghosting in the aura of the recent age, spinning out from the contradictions of Nelson’s steely reserve and melancholy fragility. If past efforts highlighted a certain zeal for the times, Mental Picture, while no less resolute in its approbation of the charms of this particular wasteland, definitely adds the haunt of eyes that have seen a grimness and dared to wink back at it. Think later Townes Van Zandt self-deprecation jolted through the afterglow of Stoned And Dethroned horizon-watching. What began as a way to stay sane in the early days of the pandemic when studios remained shuttered, the album was recorded in Nelson’s own Mission District living room with long-time creative partner Rusty Miller, as well as at the home of compatriot Doug Hilsinger—who both not only play on the album, but also claim co-producing, engineering and mixing roles—Mental Picture is an incredibly homegrown, early Smog-like affair. The vibes flit between tracks like opener “Five Lovin’ Days” and the later “Night Birds,” whose bare-bones gated, archaic stripped-down electro-acoustic production prefigures a post-apocalyptic cosmic country akin to Emmylou Harris strumming in a bomb shelter. Fuller tracks like “Better Off Dead” and ringer “I Can Just Leave” never shrug off the radioactive buzz, but coalesce into soulful stretches akin to Spiritualized through a ham radio. There’s a certain kismet to Nelson’s latest album releasing on fledgling San Francisco label Speakeasy Studios SF. Label chief Alicia Vanden Heuvel (Aislers Set, Magic Trick) is part of the very fabric of Nelson’s collective—she even lends her vocals to aforementioned “Night Birds,” birds of a feather, naturally. The feeling of homecoming here parallels the intimacy of Mental Picture and echoes the burnished survival instincts of the locals still standing and weaving tales together. But don’t get this wrong, there’s also a universality here that’s unchained by any particularities to a certain time and place. Everyone is in the Zone, after all.

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