Long, swaying grass, the hoofbeats of horses, and infinite blue skies: this is the typical imagery that has long come to mind when someone brings up Americana. But for Toronto-based Nelson Sobral, when you inject Americana with a hard-edged, urban blast of gritty midwest blues, rock'n'roll, and northern soul, Americana adopts an entirely new identity, one of overpasses, subway trains, and the grit of city streets.
“I really don’t care if people think I’m 'rural' or not,” Sobral says from within the murky labyrinth of downtown Toronto. Despite being born and raised in the rough-and-tumble Parkdale neighbourhood, Sobral has long been surrounded by an outlaw spirit and lawless, yet valorous, energy. “My uncle loved country music—Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson were always playing at his place—but Otis Redding is my spirit animal for vocals, and growing up, I admired all the guitar players that served the song and meant more to me than just solos, like Jimmy Page and Keith Richards: they had dynamics and songcraft. All of it is part of my gumbo, for lack of a better word.”
For Sobral, all that is sacred is the song, and the means by which it is delivered transcends genre. Though clearly inspired by the roots songwriting giants—the Hank Williams and the Gram Parsons of the world—Sobral’s work deserves a wider scope, a wider breadth, and a wider reach. Through the lens of soul, blues, and rock and roll, Sobral’s songwriting, paired with his incomparable voice and monster guitar playing, is fit for any stage, any night of the week, any audience, anywhere.
Nelson Sobral has already defined his road-hardened career by sharing stages with the likes of legends such as David Wilcox, The Trews, and Jeff Healey, and his knuckles-to-the-dirt, workhorse spirit has seen him tour and play relentlessly across Canada and the United States. “You need to do those things as a musician to experience life,” Sobral continues. “Even if you write from that perspective, you can tell if someone’s done it or not. You can tell when someone’s paid their dues.”
Sobral certainly has, like the aforementioned songwriting greats that have come before him. With a career due to be long, enduring, and unconcerned with being pigeonholed and catering to one image, one sound, and one spirit, Nelson Sobral has bigger plans: beneath the wide canopy of his influences and styles, Sobral continues to unite listeners with the impact of his songs and energy, as varied and wide-reaching as car wheels on a gravel road and the barreling rhythm of a Toronto streetcar. - Eamon McGrath