Ross Neilsen Early Grave

From New Brunswick, Neilsen’s sophomore recording is a major step up from his 2005 debut. Its strengths — unrushed, introspective performances, a fearless vocal approach and a strong mixture of blues-based originals and covers — are again present. Added are top-notch production values, more dynamic song arranging and a band approach to recording. The resulting CD has a harder, edgier tone than its predecessor, verging at times on primal blues rock. Neilsen’s singing is best when he’s pushing it to its limits, as on the urgent, gospel-infused "Let You Down” or the funky rocker "Back For More.” It also has a lonesome, plaintive quality heard best on the traditional sounding title track or the lament "How I Could Change.” Not a flashy guitar player, he focuses on brief, rhythmic solos woven into his tightly arranged compositions. The addition of keys to several tracks nicely enhances the trio format of his band. Capping things off is an eerie version of Norman Greenbaum’s "Spirit in the Sky,” with Neilsen sounding like someone with one foot in an early grave. (Independent)