Singer-songwriter Lukas Nelson shows true self in his music, on Farm Aid stage
The songs on the self-titled album, “Lukas Nelson and the Promise of Tomorrow,” range from pensive to joyous, from love songs to party anthems.
Nelson, one of the featured acts at Farm Aid on Sept. 16 at KeyBank Pavilion in Burgettstown, thinks it's important to show varying sides of his persona.
“Songwriting is an expression of how I'm feeling.” Nelson says. “I've learned from the mentors that I've had throughout the years that it's important to be honest with your art. It's important to show who I am for real and not some created version of myself.”
Nelson has certainly had excellent teachers. His father is Willie Nelson, the revered singer and songwriter who is one of the co-creators of Farm Aid.
Lukas Nelson has toured and recorded with Neil Young, and has been around musicians since he was a kid.
While having a famous father is beneficial, Nelson own bona fides are evident on “Lukas Nelson …”, a rich and diverse recording showcasing his versatile songwriting. The first song, “Set Me Down on a Cloud,” is an ethereal, gospel-tinged opus. But there is also “Carolina,” a rousing number that indicates he's not averse to having a good time
“I am somewhat profane and somewhat spiritual at the same time,” Nelson says. “I'm a dualistic, complex human being, so that comes out in the art as well.”
“Lukas Nelson and Promise of the New” is the group's third album. Nelson doesn't think he's necessarily better as an artist, but a decade of touring and performing — he started at 18, and is now 28 — has honed his talents. Two songs on the album especially showcase his maturity as a songwriter.
“Just Outside of Austin” sounds like a Glen Campbell tune, and accidently recalls one of the late musician's more famous performances.
“I didn't write it with Glen in mind at all,” Nelson says. “In fact, I hadn't heard the song ‘Gentle on My Mind,' which uses the same chord progressions, in years. It kind of tripped me out to hear that song, because if I would have heard (“Gentle on My Mind”) recently I would have written my song differently. ... I wanted to write a classic country song in the style of Roger Miller.”
The other notable song is the soulful “Find Yourself,” which features a duet with Lady Gaga. While the pop star didn't write the lyrics, Gaga's vocals changed the song.
“She brought a woman's perspective to the song, and honestly, I feel like her being on there made it a completely different song, and closer to how I had written it,” Nelson says. “I wrote it with the idea it could be a man or could be a woman singing. That's why it makes sense now that she's on it. She's incredible singer who really adds a nice color and texture to it.”
While Nelson's music stands on its own merits, he's cognizant that his father and friends have boosted his career. Neil Young, who enlisted Lukas Nelson and Promise of the New to record the album “The Monsanto Years,” and also to tour, has been a profound influence.
“I think there's a brevity, a weight now, to the band we didn't have before,” Nelson says. “I think we've absorbed a lot of energy, experience, focus and confidence from Neil. I think that has spilled over. It's kind of like being a pro golfer and you win a tournament and you have momentum, and then you start to win more tournaments because you've hit this level, this plateau.”
And of course there's his father, one of the iconic musicians of the last 50 years. It cannot be easy carving out one's own path as the progeny of such a prodigious talent, but Nelson has no complaints. Music always stands on its own merits.
“A lot of people know me already and know my music,” Nelson says, “and a lot of people don't. And the people who don't, obviously the foot in the door is that they know who my father is. When they listen to my music they either like it or they don't.”
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.