There has always been a bleakness about the sound and lyrics of Danish singer-songwriter CS Nielsen but on his fourth release ‘Pilgrims’ he plunges further into darkness and despair. Through his sonorous voice he has created his own unique brand of sombre Americana that makes the gothic and the noir his familiar habitat. Nielsen blends the dark myths of his homeland with the melancholic side of country music storytelling. As on previous releases he finds inspiration from the scriptures. The album’s opener ‘Judges 19’ mixes Old Testament viciousness with the violence of ‘Frankie and Johnny’, the old classic covered by so many artists. Nielsen could not have delivered more fire and brimstone if he had been in a pulpit. For full effect watch the video below.
Though that opener is unmatched for pure shock and awe Nielsen is no less effective in his sparser styles. ‘Silent Hour’ is so eerily reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’ as Nielsen sings with clarity and measure, “I keep looking in that mirror, of sorrow torture and scorn”. Parallels with an earlier Man in Black surge in the ballad ‘All Right No How’ where Nielsen shows his versatility with a lightness of picking touch.
There is no let-up in the gloom. ‘Fool’, a perfect example of Nielsen’s brand of folk-noir is a tale of impending doom “You fool, don’t you know you’re gonna die”. In similar fashion comes ‘Of What One Cannot Speak’, where the piano line adds to the pathos. Nielsen wrote all the songs but his ethereal creativity certainly qualified him to cover the spooky traditional spiritual ‘Sinner Man’.
Amid the southern gothic Nielsen does return to the country vibe that characterised his previous releases. The more upbeat tempo of ‘Beginning of Sorrows’ is boosted by Nielsen’s producer and guitarist Johnny Stage adding some twang. Lyrically ‘Holy Ghost Building’ does not let up on the hardship but that is the foundation of classic country which Nielsen does so well.
‘Pilgrims’ has a lot to offer and rewards multiple plays to unravel the complexities of this highly talented artist.