Friday, January 25, 2013


I had the pleasure of sitting around a campfire by the ocean this past summer, on Grand Manan Island, with several fine musicians.  It was the Summer's End Folk Festival, but the folks were long gone back to their homes, tents and cottages.  Musicians being musicians, and MC's being... hangers-on, we straggled down to the dark shore, sparked up a roaring fire, passed around a few (all mine, musicians are cheap), and they brought out the guitars.  Folk and country were the choices of this lot, all young but all firm lovers of classic pre-rock songs.  None more so than Daniel Romano, and none more real.  If you think for a moment this is some retro schtick he's doing, come on down to the campfire, where you play what you want and love.  Romano's the man-o.

This is solo album #3 of classic, golden era country for the founding City And Colour member, and the Nudie suit is fitting better than ever.  The music is as comfortable as a rocking chair on a front porch, pedal steels and choir-like harmony angels taking us to the right place, before country forsook western, and went uptown.  Now, as cool as that is, evoking George and Buck and Loretta and Mr. Bradley's barn, that's the relative easy part of what Romano does.  Hell, you could just study the Gram Parsons solo albums to get to that place, if you could play and sing that good (which he can).  What Romano does is write songs that are not only as good as the ones in that field and era, he also does them with his own twist, and a modern attitude and language.  Not obvious stuff though, he isn't singing about dot-coms and sticking in sly references to PlayStation 3 games.  It's the same fare as 50's and 60's country; heartache, bad luck, broken homes, alcohol, mama.  But Romano injects a twist, a 21st century male maturity of his generation.  These are guys who aren't afraid to cry over a love lost, but also know "It wasn't meant to be this time around, a new love can be found."  It's actually amplifying the emotion that always existed in Bakersfield and the best of Nashville.  Jones wasn't afraid to admit to a tear, and to his faults.  Take that, four generations of heavy metal groups that have come since.  Who knew country was the  mature music?

Elsewhere Romano tells the tale of a barfly, his life wrecked by whiskey nights, living at the bottom of a bottle.  What we find out is that he was left for adoption by his mother; boo-hoo, that's an old story.  Ya, but here's the twist.  He's the Middle Child of the title, an older sister kept by mommy, and then a new baby brother joined, also loved.  He's driven to drink and ruin, tormented by this knowledge, never to find out why she left the middle child.  That's another fine thing about Romano;  while the tent poles of the story are the traditional country themes, the tales inside the song are fresh and unique.  Brand-new short stories are found in every one.

He also goes to great lengths to give us the whole feel of an album circa 1962.  In those days, you'd get a mix of songs, including the ballad weepers, the honky tonk numbers, maybe a gospel-style, and that wild card, the novelty song.  Usually these were groaners, Hee-Haw jokes and bad puns.  Romano gives us two, the deliciously bizarre twang of Chicken Bill, a talking tale that hints at something akin to the Kids In The Hall's Chicken Lady skit.  The other, When I Was Abroad, is a double entendre title, where we're left to guess if he's a traveler, or sexually confused.  With both these songs, the punch lines are never delivered, leaving us to laugh and wonder.

Now, I'm not sure if Romano plans this stuff out.  I think it just comes naturally to him, this is his country and he's not on some mission other than making the music he loves.  There's beauty and good times and sorrow and laughs here, and above all, fine sounds.  That's a great statement right there, all you really need.  It just so happens he's also making the very best era of country music relevant today.

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