“Singer-songwriter” isn’t an identity, it’s a responsibility. There’s a demand exacted by each of its three components; singer, song, and writer. It’s a mantle too-easily and too-often slipped on by charlatans who hazard a few quatrains over a I-IV-V progression and fancy themselves an inheritor of Woody or Joni or Bob. And it’s a role Sarah Bethe Nelson was born to play, a trinity she was meant to embody. Singer, song, and writer. 

Hailing from the Sierra town of Placerville, CA, Ms. Nelson wound her way down the hills and through the valley to land in San Francisco, spending the mid-2000s finding that the middle ground between electric folk and California pop is in fact a windswept urban hilltop with her five-piece ensemble Prairiedog, who released two albums in their time together. 

Since moving on under her own name in 2014, Ms. Nelson has released two full-length albums on Burger Records, Fast-Moving Clouds ​(2015) and ​Oh, Evolution​ (2017). She has also earned a MA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, and subsequently published​ Illuminate The Ruins​ in late 2018, a collection of poetry written throughout the previous year. 

Her third with Burger, the forthcoming ​Weird Glow​ will release June 28, 2019. It’s a new approach for Ms. Nelson, foregoing the full band of the previous two records, and approaching this body of work with just one longtime-collaborator and an engineer/producer. 

The result is a record that is more sprawling sonically and lyrically. The dreams are desert dreams, the longing almost tangible, but gone are the feelings of being trapped and the need to escape that we heard in 2015’s Fast-Moving Clouds​. The riffs are heavier, the fuzz is thicker, the push/pull of a deep groove against a lilting lyric, more salient. There’s a hard-won comfort in the new record, a discovery of something that was maybe there all along but couldn’t be seen. Bright light, in ​Weird Glow​, has burned through the fog. 

—Christopher Wind