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Bill Nelson: Music that Illuminates Tomorrow

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For several decades, Bill Nelson has produced pop music marked by intelligence and a fascination with rocket ships and cities of tomorrow. He dreams of flying cars and glamorous hairdos, and he plays wicked guitar.

Here's a look at two of his recent albums: one of pop tunes and an instrumental one.

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BILL NELSON: Golden Melodies of Tomorrow (CD on Sonoluxe)

This release from 2008 offers 77 minutes of remarkable pop tuneage.

Dazzling guitars and splendid swarms of electronics and sinuous rhythms--all channeled through a remarkable songwriter.

The electronics are liquid and sparkling. Instead of crowding songs with flashy effects, Nelson relies on solid keyboards, delivering tones that linger like honeycoated fireflies. In fact, many of the sounds you'd assume originate from a synthesizer are generated by good old-fashioned guitars.

The man's a guitar virtuoso. He can coax strings to produce just about any sound you can imagine--and a host of sounds beyond human ken. He does it with ease and skill--but also with a divine congeniality lacking in most musicians. On this album you will encounter a wide range of guitar styles, from gutsy raw to dreamy to astral to visceral to rock-out to classical. His fascination with the future has primed him to think in terms of possibilities--then actualize those possibilities and enhance their potential. Notes bend and twirl and expand and growl and'd all be exhausting if he didn't do it with such engaging aplomb.

Percussion--natural and artificial--flourish with bewitching scope. Traditional drum kits produce steadfast rock rhythms. His e-perc pulsates with inventive definition. Not just providing locomotion, his rhythms flow with a comfortable equality that never overwhelms accompanying instrumentation.

His vocals are rich and golden, manly in a way that has no need for any macho swagger, compelling with lilting resonance, dreamy in an eye-opening manner. He sings about majestic aeroplanes and electronic dragonflies and monorails to the stars and magic robots and electric cities and engines of limitless imagination.

These compositions are superb and flexible. The man seems cursed with a never-ending resource of fresh riffs and enticing melodies. The tunes are memorable and excellently arranged. They captivate and transport the listener to other worlds where everything shines. Feel-good music that also stimulates the mind.

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BILL NELSON: Illuminated at Dusk (CD on Sonoluxe)

This CD from 2008 features 75 minutes of inspired instrumental music.

A glorious splendor permeates this music, as guitars substantiate levels of euphoria located far overhead. Up there, vistas of grandeur flourish with each breathtaking series of astounding chords. Riffs are assembled, then coaxed to express tremendous excitation, the type of passion that builds to all-encompassing certitude. Nimble-fingered stratagems generate thrilling melodies that stroke the heart and soul.

Slippery electronics establish a delicate foundation for the guitar pyrotechnics. Endearing pulsations and flowing tonalities create an undercurrent of glistening actuality, tenuous enough to remain unobtrusive, but robust enough to bolster the mix. Crystalline keyboard sweeps provide heavenly embellishment.

Crafty percussion appears when needed, but rhythms are not always required. Some of the tracks luxuriate excellently without any beats. Nor are the rhythms unwavering, often retreating or changing tempo to benefit each song's streaming sonority. Whether conventional or artificial, the percussion is never forced and always compliments the overall sound.

Nelson's guitar mastery is superb. He slides from dreamy strumming to flamenco to rollicking and gutsy, bestowing each riff with a natural magnificence. His ability to blend styles is unparalleled. A track might start out with ambient sensibilities only to ease into a progressive groove that unexpectedly sidesteps into a cowboy motif before soaring to stratospheric heights with explosive rock intonations. And each transformation flows with expert fluidity.

While varied and versatile, the compositions all exhibit a luster that is satisfying and uplifting. Each piece radiates a sense of compelling eminence, yet this nobility is adroitly tempered by a snappy appeal. It's simply amazing how Nelson can produce song after song without ever growing stale or repetitive.

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