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Sarah Bethe Nelson

With her breathy voice and knack for catchy, artful melodies, Sarah Bethe Nelson sounded like a precocious indie pop newcomer with the release of her 2015 album, Fast Moving Clouds. The truth is Nelson was a seasoned veteran of the California music scene as a member of the band Prairiedog when her solo debut finally expanded her reputation outside her hometown. Nelson's music is warm, tuneful indie rock with a pop sensibility, a folk-informed melodic sense, and a subtle sense of adventure that found its first expression on 2015's Fast Moving Clouds. She added greater punch and production polish to her music while maintaining its unique character on 2019's Weird Glow, and found a middle ground between minimalism and ambitious bedroom pop with 2022's home-recorded Mental Picture. Nelson was born in Sacramento, California in 1977 and grew up in the nearby foothills. In 2004, she formed the roots rock band Prairiedog with Rusty Miller of Jackpot; the group released its first album, To Set Your Calendars on Fire, in 2006, and with the help of musician and producer Kelley Stoltz, cut a second album, The Golden Hour, in 2011. Founded in Sacramento, Prairiedog had settled in San Francisco before they finally called it quits in 2013. Nelson then found herself with a batch of songs that reflected a different creative direction than her old band had. Many of the tunes were informed by Nelson's job as a bartender at the Mission District tavern the Make Out Room. Teaming with a handful of musicians she'd met during her days with Prairiedog and her nights at the Make Out Room, Nelson began crafting a moody and expressive new sound, and she once again teamed with Stoltz to cut her first solo project. Fast Moving Clouds was picked up for release by the well-respected California indie label Burger Records, and it immediately made an impression with bloggers and critics, especially the song "Paying," written from the perspective of a woman working at a watering hole confronting a man who has broken her heart and maxed out his bar tab. Her follow-up, Oh, Evolution, was recorded by Phil Manley (the Fresh & Onlys, Moon Duo) and released in early 2017. For 2019's Weird Glow, Nelson took a more simplified approach in the studio, handling all the instrumental work along with Rusty Miller. By mid-2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, making it impossible and impractical to play live or enter a recording studio. Nelson started writing songs as a means of self-care, and she soon set up a makeshift studio in her living room with help from Rusty Miller. With help from instrumentalist and recording engineer Doug Hilsinger, they crafted Nelson's fourth solo album, 2022's Mental Picture, whose sweetly moody songs were matched to streamlined pop arrangements and production. The album was released by Speakeasy Studios SF, a new label launched by Alicia Vanden Heuvel of the Aislers Set; Heuvel also sang backup on one track from the LP, "Night Birds."
© Mark Deming /TiVo
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