Artist: Daniel Romano
Label: New West
Release Date: 05/27/2016
With a Juno Award nomination and much acclaim for his 2015 album, If I’ve Only One Time Askin’, most artists would play it safe next time out, but that’s not how Daniel Romano works. Instead, he challenges himself in this genre defying effort that is so complex, even after many listens, you sense you’ve missed something. “I’m pretty seriously afraid of classification,” he told another publication, elaborating, “I’m trying to cover my ass so I don’t end up in some club I don’t want to be a part of.” While his last record was a great country album updating the style of ’70s era George Jones/Billy Sherrill productions, this one has hardly any traces of country. Romano self-produced the album, which he recorded in mono in his home studio, playing all instruments except the piano, horns and orchestration (which he charted). “He had all the songs in his head. He set up the drums, we mic’d them and then I rolled the tape,” explained engineer Kenneth Roy Meehan. “He played through the entire first pass of the record, which included something like 20 songs, without any music to reference in basically the amount of time it would take to listen to it. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
You might echo that you’ve never heard anything like it either. With its colorful outros, the album flows like a cinematic soundtrack replete with psychedelic blues, country-soul, rock n’ roll, and ’60s French and British pop music. Immediately, the opening track “Valerie Leon” brings in majestic strings, honky tonk riffs, and big brassy accents. Amidst his musical explorations, his stunning wordplay remains prominent. Here’s one example from “I Had to Hide Your Poem in a Song,” “You are the tide never touching the shore/receded of earth as day’s birth be it long/beneath you the mountains and piles of whales/and I had to hide your poem in a song.” Other standout songs include “(Gone Is) All But a Quarry of Stone,” the piano ballad “One Hundred Regrets Avenue,” and the playful duet with fellow Canadian, Rachel McAdams, “Toulouse,” sung in both English and French. Curiously, “Dead Medium” closes the record in live at the likely facetiously named Illumination Club.
You might spend a month with this album and not fully absorb it. These words from Romano will either help you understand it or further add to the intrigue. “…I’m a cultural defeatist. I’m noticing that now. I’m worried…and angry. Humanity on many levels – there’s no cultural identity to be part of or rebel against. So I’m rebelling against the void, which now feels quite real. ….Unlikely word combinations thrill me. All of these songs existed first as poems, so the rhythms were crafted without the intention of having musical accompaniment. It’s more free form.” The wide ranging sonic palette and different vocal approaches are the by-products of Romano’s stance, “Stagnation is the breath of the devil; it’s the enemy. It’s why I keep moving, no matter what.” Sit still. Give yourself plenty of time to listen. It’s weird but worth it.
– Jim Hynes