Last night my friend Nelson Slater dropped by accompanied by his loyal and sometimes cantankerous canine Riley Martin. The three of us chilled out and played records, which is nothing new, except this time something special was on the turntable.
More than 35 years have passed since Nelson released his first LP, Wild Angel. The record was produced by Lou Reed, who roomed with Nelson at Syracuse University. The two of them played together in bands before the Velvet Underground formed and then remained friends. Since Wild Angel Nelson has continued to play music, and lots of it; every time I visit his house I see stacks of cassette tapes that contain music he and his cronies have taped over the years. But a new, full-length LP on vinyl has eluded him—until now, that is.
The release of the new full-length Steam-Age Time Giant is big news, and I felt honored that he chose me to be the person who first person to drop the needle on the test pressings that arrived in the mail yesterday. Never mind that I was perhaps the one buddy within walking distance who had both a turntable and at least a fairly decent-sounding stereo; I’d like to think to think that our friendship and our shared love of music had something to do with it as well.
The record is a lo-fi affair due to low recording levels. As far as I can tell all the cuts are “live,” i.e., no multi-tracking or overdubs, and at times things get kinda messy. That’s fine with me. In this context the strength of the songs comes through, as does Nelson’s voice, which is as strong as ever. That’s what matters.
I hear two distinct periods of music when I listen to Steam-Age Time Giant. One is early, mostly pre-Beatles rock, pop and soul—everything from Phil Spector to King Records to the stacks of R&B 45s Nelson has sitting around his house. That music got under Nelson’s skin at an early age and it never left. That’s part of what makes his music so unique.
I also hear the 1980s. I’m thinking here of cuts like “Panic” and the gloomy “Slaves of the Modern Age,” an all-too-true observation about how civilization has devolved.
A big surprise is the short off-kilter blues number “Just a Taste,” featuring acoustic piano and a saxophone. My favorite cut may be “Lonely Weekends,” a revved-up garage rocker. It blasts out of the gates and is still in hyperdrive during the fade-out. I also like how Nelson’s voice blends with Lesli-Anne Nachbauer on “Complete This Story.”
Steam-Age Time Giant is coming out on Are and Be Records, a subsidiary of the Lost Treasures of the Underworld label from Columbus. You can order a copy through the Lost Treasures of the Underworld website, losttreasuresoftheunderworld.com. Also, Nelson’s New York posse should know that his records will also be available at Kim’s on First Ave, Rebel Rebel in the West Village, and Academy Records on East 11th. As for us Cliftonites, if you see Nelson walking around Clifton with Isis and Riley Martin (or holding court in the Aluminum Room), feel free to discuss business (and get the latest on Arcturus).
Here’s some footage of Nelson Slater performing at Arlin’s, a bar that’s located within walking distance of several Gaslight Property apartment buildings, among them Tudor Court Apartments; 3405 Ludlow (above Graeter’s); and the Jonathan Apartment Building (451 Ludlow). Arlin’s is also a hop, skip and a jump away from the Proud Rooster and Ludlow Wines, which are also owned by Gaslight Property.
Finally, here’s a picture I snapped of the irrepressible Riley Martin, who immediately claimed a seat atop a chair and stayed there, knowing the whole time where he wanted to be in the room. “Don’t tell him he’s a dog,” Nelson advised, “because he doesn’t know that.”