When a young 18-year-old folk singer appeared in producer John Wright’s studio in early 2021, the teenager didn’t have cases for the guitars he was carrying.
The initial meeting was arranged so he could present his songs and vision, as he wanted to make a short “indie” album. The shy young man played one song, and continued to play more of his originals at Wright’s persistence. It was apparent that a short “indie” album would evolve into a full compilation of this young man’s works.
This up-and-comer turned out to be Minneapolis-based folk artist Nolen Sellwood, who released this compilation of songs on what is his debut album, Otherwise, which dropped last Friday February 3rd via New Folk Records.
Sellwood has only been writing songs for a few years, yet his natural songwriting and guitar picking abilities along with his old soul are already most evident. He cites the album Pink Moon by Nick Drake as the beginning of his love affair with the folk genre, and this too is evident when listening to his debut album.
Otherwise channels the vintage acoustic sound of 1960s folk that can be hard to come by in modern artists these days. Over the course of ten original songs, the album highlights Sellwood’s natural gift for acoustic guitar and tender lyricism.
The first song, “This Time,” is an upbeat tune showcasing the masterful production that carries over throughout the album. In between electric instrumental breaks, Sellwood introduces his knack for poetic sweetness in lyrics like, “Dreams will only be sweet if you’re in them / The nightmares subside in the light.”
This leads into his debut single, “To Be Saved”, a compelling Nick Drake-inspired track featuring delicate orchestral elements. Once again, Sellwood creates a listening experience that utilizes tasteful instrumentals into his idyllic storytelling. Similarly, “This is for Someone” blends hopeful lyrics with sonically pleasing cameos from violins and rock-inspired drums.
As the album delightfully ebbs and flows along, listeners’ ears will be tickled by Sellwood’s precise finger-picking and catchy choruses. In “Going for the Sun” he tells his story of overcoming adversity and doubt from others, reminding us “When I’m ready, I will be there / When I’m ready, it won’t be hard to bear.”
The titular “Otherwise” is one of the most upbeat on the whole album, diverging slightly from the jazzy, acoustic sound to showcase a more drum-forward ballad. An electric guitar solo leaves you feeling energized and pumped up, and as he closes out with his vulnerable and contemplative track, “What I Wanted,” it’s hard to believe this is only Sellwood’s first project.
Not quite jazz and not quite folk, but rather something uniquely and distinctively his own, this profound record serves as an exciting industry calling card for Sellwood, who has his whole exciting career ahead of him.