Album review: ‘Where it Takes Us’ by Nolan McKelvey and Dave Desmelik

ALL IS VERY WELL: Longtime friends and former band mates Dave Desmelik and Nolan McKelvey team up for their first collaboration in more than 15 years.
ALL IS VERY WELL: Longtime friends and former band mates Dave Desmelik and Nolan McKelvey team up for their first collaboration in more than 15 years.

In an era when recordings artists routinely go years between album releases, Brevard singer-songwriter Dave Desmelik is an outlier. Since Move On, his 1999 solo debut, Desmelik has released no less than 11 records under his own name. His most recent was 2016’s Lifeboat.

But Desmelik’s recording career was already well under way when he made Move On; around that time he was also in a Flagstaff, Ariz.-based band called Onus B. Johnson. That outfit released albums in 1998 and 2000. One of Desmelik’s bandmates in that project was fellow guitarist Nolan McKelvey. Though McKelvey relocated to Boston (and then back to Arizona), the two longtime friends stayed in touch over the years, and now they’ve teamed up once again to make Where it Takes Us.

Though both men tend to operate primarily in the Americana and singer-songwriter genres, Where it Takes Us has an easygoing country-rock flavor that bridges the gap between styles. The duo never rocks as hard as, say, Old 97’s, but there’s an electric sensibility to many of the songs on Where it Takes Us that enlivens the material.

The musical touchstones of the 10-track disc include Gram Parsons’ rooted-in-classic-country aesthetic, Neil Young’ scruffy, distorted take on an acoustic-based form, and perhaps even Eagles (in the record’s largely accessible and radio-friendly sound). Desmelik and McKelvey trade lead vocal duties across the album, and while their vocal styles are quite different from one another, the sturdy songwriting is the glue that holds the project together.

The themes explored on Where it Takes Us ring true on both a personal and universal level, and the warm, intimate production displays those songs in the best possible light. The duo applies a light touch to “Letting Go of the Weight,” with an arrangement that showcases only vocals, acoustic guitar (well, OK: an occasional splash of electric) and understated organ. But such a song needs nothing more — it’s a quiet, contemplative tune that deserves focus on its lyric.

The exceedingly brief instrumental “The Disconnect” shows what Desmelik and McKelvey can do with only the barest of instrumentation. In under two minutes it displays a dramatic flourish. Those who prefer the Appalachian folk side of the guitarists’ work will enjoy “The Bond,” an ever-so-slightly-modern take on old-time styles. The brief mandolin break on “We Made Time” is tasty as well. And “Solstice” shows that Desmelik and McKelvey can easily slip from one style into another; though guitar-based, the instrumental has a feel redolent of George Winston’s atmospheric piano solos.

Where it Takes Us closes with a deeply textured piece, “All Shall Be Well.” The song’s creaky lead vocal suggests Neil Young’s haunted early 1970s work in both arrangement and lyrics. Everything about the tune suggests that unknowable pain lies beneath its oblique lyric and spare piano accompaniment.

Where it Takes Us is a varied collection that plays to the strengths of the artists involved.

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About Bill Kopp
Music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. In that order? Perhaps. My book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," will be published in 2018 by Rowman & Littlefield. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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