A Son by Pan American

Pan American | A Son
Kranky (CD/LP/DL)

Those familiar with some former work of Mark Nelson, often better known for his moniker Pan American or for his work with Labradford might have expected at least a dash of electronics on A Son, his latest effort (ninth in over 20 years).

Not that they don’t get it, but then that was never the point. With Pan American or Labradford, or for Kranky, their mainstay label it was never about sticking to a ‘perfectly set’ musical genre, whether it was any form of electronics, ambient neo-classical or anything else. It was about questioning the boundaries of music, sound, where it began, where it is going, is it going to be infinite?

Here, on A Son it seems that Nelson decided to start at the beginning, go back to roots, as to be able to have a better vision of where things are heading. But, by going back to the roots, it’s not the same as going back to the traditional roots of music as such. It is, in a way, a fact that here Nelson is exploring the simplicity of sound, of ‘original’ acoustic instruments, guitar or hammered dulcimer, as on the opening track with a self-explanatory name – “Ivory Joe Hunter, Little Walter”.

Still, at the same time it is Nelson’s personal vision of the roots, the way he felt that music when he first experienced it, and then all filtered through the musical excursions he went through, as say, on “Brewthru” or  excellent “Dark Birds Empty Fields“. It is no wonder that Nelson cites as inspiration for this album include June Tabor, The Carter Family, Suicide and Jimmy Reed, but as seen and filtered through his vision and imagination. As he said himself: “What does music do, Where does music start? How simple can it be? How honest can it be?

What we get on Pan American’s A Son is pastoral, but at the same time a moving album that by looking backward not only clears the space for moving forward, but takes the first few steps in that direction.


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