Just what the music world needs: another Neil-Young-ish singer with shallow pipes and songwriting that, at its best, is pedestrian. That’s what you get with Minneapolis musician John Mark Nelson’s new album Waiting and Waiting. Young’s greatest saving grace has always been his solid skill with putting a melody together with some interesting lyrics—usually over surprisingly simple chords. When the songs are strong, you tend not to mind so much that he can’t sing a lick. With not a lot of strength to his voice, on Waiting and Waiting Nelson doesn’t have a capable hand with the songcraft to pull him through.
“Home,” for instance, begins with a sing-songy chorus of “oohs” accompanying a pleasant if not intriguing ditty. Then, Nelson sings nonsense in thin, lackluster tones. “Only now and then do I see your face/ Another lonely afternoon has put me in my place/ I hate to hope to hold you but I have to confess/ When the winter turned to spring I found you pounding in my chest.” The words here want to paint a picture but don’t create any imagery. And the closings lines, desperately amateurish, go “Wake up! Won’t you wake up please?/ You will know the difference when I sing and when I bleed/ Help me help you stand up tall!/ We will shout in grateful voices ‘We’ve got nothing at all.’” Standing up tall to be grateful for nothing at all? These are random lines plucked out of nowhere and stuck together for the sake of rhyme and in hopes that they’ll be mistaken for a subtle and poetic sensibility.
“Overture,” which opens Waiting and Waiting, is flat-out ridiculous. Done up to approximate classic country music—complete with a recreation of the static-plagued old-time radio shows that really is pretty clever—it has the trappings of a smart homage but comes off as a slick imitation. Including the lyrics, “Baby, are you mine all the time?/ Sometimes when you stay out at night I wonder if your love is true/ Baby, I will be waiting here for you to come home.” What could have been a witty little cut starts the album off as a throwaway, all originality having gone completely by the wayside.
The album is a self-contained outing. All songs written, arranged, performed, recorded and mixed by John Mark Nelson. Frankly, he could’ve used some help with the creativity.