Barroom bard

Nels Andrews romanticizes and demonizes getting back on the road and chasing a career as a singer and songwriter with his new album, "Scrimshaw."

"The album's themes are more or less my reflections of time spent touring while I unplugged and spent two years at home with my son after he was born," Andrews says. "A lot of the music comes from ambition. While my family and I lived in New York City, I saw other sides of how people lived. It's a city where everyone is pushing to get ahead.

"Right around that time, I read 'Moby Dick.' The hunt for the big, white whale was the ambition in that story, and scrimshaw is a sailor's art used to pass time between hunts. I felt like I was having a little downtime of my own while I was at home with Otis. I think there's a lot of maritime themes on the album, a lot of sea imagery."

Andrews, who is now based in Santa Cruz, Calif., will present a show in Ashland on his West Coast tour that starts this weekend in Seattle and Portland. He'll perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, at The Wild Goose Cafe & Bar, 2365 Highway 66. There is no cover charge for the show.

Andrews' songs — such as "Tridents," "Starboard" and "Flotsam" — include fanciful lyrics that evoke images of ships, seas and shores, as well as San Franciscan streets, outgrowing your clothes and coming of age. Yet he doesn't consider himself a poet.

"What I do is tied into the meter, the melody," Andrews says. "I think it would have trouble standing on its own. I try to evoke imagery — just with a different approach than a poet."

If you like Josh Ritter, Joe Purdy and Gregory Alan Isakov, then Andrews is a sure fit, according to his website.

"Scrimshaw" is Andrews' second collaboration with producer Todd Sickafoose (Anais Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, Andrew Bird) and was released in early 2012 in the Netherlands and United Kingdom. It was released in November in the United States.

The album was recorded in New York City with Andrews' touring band: bassist Sickafoose, guitarists Adam Levy and Jonathan Goldberger, mandolin and banjo player Brandon Seabrook and drummer Andrew Borger.

"Then we brought the tracks to San Francisco and spent some time working on them," Andrews says. "I mainly play acoustic music on a Martin at my live shows."

Andrews originally hailed from New Mexico, where he met his wife, Julia.

"She dragged me kicking and screaming to New York," he says. "But it was great. There are so many musicians and players there. I got involved with a songwriting group in Greenwich Village, and everyone was supportive.

"About 10 years ago, I won the Kerrville New Folk Award in Texas. It's been a starting point for many songwriters: Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett and others.

"It's a good starting point on a downhill slide that turns into a career as a songwriter," he jokes.

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