Nancy Olson: A voice that demands attention


The last time I played Corner Coffee over in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District, early in August, ran into a very interesting experience by the name of Nancy Olson (not to be confused with the Wisconsin singer-songwriter Nancy Dawn Olson). I got there about 15-20 minutes before the end of her set and went and sat someplace out of the way to politely wait for Olson to get through. Before I knew it, I had stopped waiting for her to finish and was having a real nice time enjoying her music. 

While sipping nice cold water (it was sweltering out), jotting down my set list, came this real high, real clear voice with a rich timbre that simply demands you pay attention. Especially once I figured out what song she was singing. It was that old chestnut by The Drifters, “Under The Boardwalk.” Completely re-imagined. The arrangement, much more folk than R&B, at times almost slipped into jazz. It was just odd. In a fascinating way. And showed off her sterling vocal ability to fine effect. Sort of like Joni Mitchell back when she first started getting into the avant garde.

I didn’t recognize anything else she sang but she a beautiful job with each song. Truly caught me off guard when she switch from acoustic guitar to autoharp—not too many people play that instrument these days. Anyhow, she played sang exceptionally and play well, then was off to go hit the stage in St. Paul at Big V’s. 

Nancy Olson, to the best I can find out, hasn’t cut a disc. Don’t let a little thing like that keep you from checking her out. She’s up on and at YouTube. With an impressively elective array of songs she snatches from this genre and that. For instance, how many artists can you think of who have in their repitore, along with “Under The Boardwalk,” that ancient W. C. Handy gem “Hesitation Blues.” I wouldn’t put it past her to interpret just about anything. With an original flourish that makes the song her own. She’s got originals, too, like “Minneapolis Sky” and “Riding The Waves.” Quite honestly, I don’t have much use for MySpace—haven’t even visited my own page since I can remember when. But, it certainly is worth it to go there and check the half-dozen or so tracks she has up. It’ll also tell you where you can next find her performing. Check into it. Nancy Olson is well worth the time.