John and I subscribed to Rolling Stone during the years we roomed together at Illinois, and I think I maintained the subscription for most of the rest of the time I lived in Urbana. The articles I was always most interested in were the album reviews (a carryover from my Stereo Review-reading days), but I also took time to look at various short notes they had about performers, which were usually more toward the front of the magazine. I suspect it was this blurb, under “New Faces” in a June 90 issue, that first brought Loey Nelson to my attention. (As an aside, I bet I also took note of that snippet on the same page about the Sundays.) This was smack dab in the middle of the period where the majority of my purchases featured female vocalists/singer-songwriters. I was generally on the lookout for hopeful artists-on-the-rise, as well, so it’s no surprise that I soon sought out Venus Kissed the Moon. It became one of my most-listened-to disks the year I lived by myself, after John and Ann got married.
The album has a great pedigree: top-notch studio musicians such as Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel abound, and it’s co-produced by David Kershenbaum (it definitely sounds great). Nelson wrote all its songs but two, a cover of “To Sir With Love” and the Doc Pomus/Dr. John-penned “Only the Shadows Know.” There’s enough going on stylistically not only to keep one’s interest but also to prevent an obvious pigeon-holing. The title track is a cool, jazzy thing, and there are the country-rock inflections of the sort I was enjoying then on several tracks, including personal favorites “East of the Sun,” “All or Nothing,” and “Railroad Track” (I put the last of these on Way Cool Stuff, one of my all-time favorite mix tapes, in 91). A couple of contemporaneous reviews I’ve found online make a comparison to Edie Brickell; I’m not sure I hear it, but maybe I’m focusing more on the sound rather than words? Overall, I really enjoy about three-fourths of the songs. It’s nothing particularly earth-shaking in the end, but I’m having a lot of fun listening to it again right now.
I was plenty good at digging on music that didn’t get much traction back then, but Nelson was a bit of an outlier even in this regard, basically disappearing from view after Venus (she did show up as leader of the band Carnival Strippers a few years later, but their one album was barely noticed). A quick internet search seems to indicate she’s back in her native Milwaukee; she has a Facebook page and has recorded a few songs in recent years.
You can find the whole album on YouTube if you’re so inclined (there are a couple of places selling new copies online, too). I’ll put two songs here. One is the aforementioned “Railroad Track” (which includes homages to Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” and Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby”).
The other is the final track, a beautiful ballad called “Night Sky.” It was the first song I looked up last night when this album crossed my mind. It’s a good thing when they get the sequencing right, especially with the last song. It almost feels like a benediction.
Always grateful for the albums that comprise the soundtrack of my grad school years, maybe the obscure ones the most.