The entire Nelson catalogue – representing every album released by Matthew and Gunnar Nelson in the course of their 28-year-career – will, for the first time, be available at all digital retailers and streaming services on January 8, including Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon and Pandora, among others, through their distribution partner, Redeye. The announcement follows the re-release of Nelson’s remastered 1990, multi-platinum debut album, After the Rain, on 180g vinyl by Universal Music Enterprises.
The full digital roll-out will take place today, January 29, when such collector’s items as Imaginator, the prophetic 1996 release which were originally supposed to be the follow-up to After the Rain; Brother Harmony, the 1998 country album the brothers recorded in Nashville which is now a coveted collector’s item, and Ricky Nelson Remembered, an album featuring studio recorded versions of Matthew and Gunnar performing their father’s biggest career hits, previously available only at Nelson concerts, become available for streaming and download for the first time.
“Each of these songs is like one of our children,” says Gunnar about the process of going back and rehearing their work.
“You start reliving what it took to put all the pieces together,” adds Matthew. “It represents 25-plus years of work. These songs are, quite literally, the soundtrack to our lives.”
Here’s the complete list of available titles, with comments from Matthew and Gunnar:
Imaginator (1996): Originally intended as the follow-up to After the Rain, but turned down by DGC/Geffen, Nelson finally put out the prescient album as the first release on their own Stone Canyon Records label. An edgy, acerbic record which took aim at their unfair media treatment and the threat of the Internet in the days of dial-up, Matthew recalls, “It was not the fun, sunshine pop formula the label thought they were getting.” Adds Gunnar, “It was so cathartic and honest, it’s emotionally painful for me to listen to now. It brings me back to a time when I felt we were misunderstood by the industry.”
Because They Can (1995): After the rejection of Imaginator, Matthew and Gunnar went back into the studio with legendary producer and mentor John Boylan (Boston, Little River Band, Edie Brickell) for an album that epitomized the California country-rock sound, featuring contributions from Eagles’ Don Felder and Timothy B. Schmit, America’s Gerry Beckley and the Cars’ Elliot Easton. It also features the famed William Wegman cover photo of his Man Ray Weimaraner dogs with long, blonde hair, showing the Nelson brothers were in on the joke. “It was like a Crosby, Stills & Nash Laurel Canyon record when nobody was doing that,” says Matthew.
Silence is Broken (1997): Recorded for JVC Victor Japan, the album was intended to be a bridge between Imaginator and Life, according to Matthew. “We were just learning how to record digitally,” he says of the record, produced in various studios in West L.A. and Valencia. “It really pushed the stylistic envelope in terms of its diversity.”
Brother Harmony (1998): After playing several acoustic shows in Nashville, Matthew and Gunnar signed to Warner-Reprise, and began recording songs for a new, never released album as the Nelsons with some of Nashville’s finest musicians.
Life (1999): Another JVC Victor Japan import, the album was recorded in a Nashville basement, but remains one of Gunnar’s favorites. “I have a particular affection for it,” he says. “We just wanted to make ear candy. It’s a real take-no-prisoners pop/rock album.” Matthew adds: “We recorded everyone in a room playing at the same time, which gave it some real energy.” Life features “Is That How It Is?” co-written with Russ Ballard. “We went a little bit more Vox than Marshall,” laughs Matthew.
Like Father, Like Sons (2000): The brothers’ initial tribute to their father was recorded live at the Date Festival in Indio, California, site of the Coachella festival, with James Intveld on upright bass, Gunnar on stand-up drums and Matthew on acoustic guitar. The group delved into affectionate, authentic rockabilly takes on some of Ricky’s greatest hits, including “Garden Party,” “Milk Cow Blues,” “Travelin’ Man” and “Hello Mary Lou.”
Lightning Strikes Twice (2010): After signing a new deal with Frontier Records, this was one of three separate releases to come out during the year. Nelson’s first album of new material in nearly 11 years, it featured guitarist Steve Lukather, and was recorded at Gunnar’s home Nashville studio and mixed in L.A. by top recording engineer Jay Ruston (Metallica, Anthrax). “The label challenged us to make the follow-up to After the Rain, except with modern technology and their full support,” recalls Gunnar. “It represented a personal victory.” The album went on to become the most critically acclaimed album of their career behind, “After the Rain,” with a rare 7 of 7 diamond rating from Metal Hammer Magazine.
Before the Rain: The Demos 1986-1990 (2010): A collection of the recordings which led up to their debut, After the Rain, this album shows how Nelson’s songwriting evolved, representing the band’s attempt to convince DGC/Geffen A&R legend John David Kalodner they were ready to record. Explained Matthew, “It’s a great way for the fans to hear how the songs from that first album started and eventually came together.”
Perfect Storm – After the Rain World Tour 1991 (2010): Recorded during their whirlwind, 13-month-long tour, which ended with four shows in Japan, the album captures the band as it begins to feel its strength as a live attraction, thanks to the efforts of live engineer Toby Francis. “We were very loud, but he got it to sound clean,” says Matthew. “The band we had for that tour was just ridiculously talented.”
Peace Out (2015): Another favorite of Gunnar’s for its razor-sharp focus and stylistic consistency, the song “Back in the Day” describes Nelson’s populist, crowd-pleasing aim perfectly. “The radio was our saving grace/Our heroes showed the way/Back in the day.”
“Getting these records out has been extremely satisfying because, up until now, they haven’t been available,” says Gunnar. “For the first time in a while, we’re talking about making a new Nelson album.”
Until then, Nelson will continue to inspire their fans live, with a planned summer 2018 tour on the horizon.
“Up to this point, these songs are our legacy,” adds Matthew. “I’m just happy people can find and hear them now.”