It’s easy to see why a young folk songwriter like Nils Becker might be attracted to America; the long, remote highways that seem to be built for reflection; the rich and recent history that’s been largely recorded through folk music, and of course the melting pot of hopes and ambitions that equate to the American dream.
Perhaps that’s why the new single “Masterpiece” from his upcoming EP “Made in America: Volume II” cuts through our modern perceptions of the continent and finds beauty in the most fundamental human emotions.
The lyrics are clear and articulate (perhaps a byproduct of English being a second language), and deal with themes of love, loss, memories and regret. These are all things we’ve been hearing about as long as music has existed, but a commitment to craft and a sincere vulnerability allow Nils to weave a gentle, affecting story of heartbreak.
There’s no catchy chorus here, but rather a series of verses with the refrain, “A few brush strokes can make a masterpiece”. It’s a clever metaphor, and one that becomes more meaningful as the song progresses. The final verse makes it clear that the narrator never quite lived up to expectations, and fell just a few brush strokes short of the relationship’s full potential. It’s a sad sentiment, but a relatable one.
Nils sings in a warm, clear tenor that’s reminiscent of James Taylor or Paul Simon, accompanied by gentle fingerpicking acoustic guitar. The addition of New York indie musician Tiger Darrow on cello is a subtle but effective addition to the texture, particularly notable in the solo and bridge sections. It’s a simple arrangement but the duo manage to keep things dynamic and moving. Most importantly, it mirrors the emotions and story of the song.
It’s sometimes true that less is more. The cleverness and beauty of a song like this can be found between the lines, which is what makes it so engaging and effective. The themes on display are a testament to the artist’s ability to craft an honest, emotional journey out of something simple and universal. In that sense, Nils Becker is tapping into the American folk tradition at its core. This is a fireside folk song for sure – one that would be best enjoyed on a quiet evening with a warm drink. Be nice to yourself and check it out.