Sunday, June 21, 2009

Danny Schmidt - instead the forest rose to sing



A while back, I made up a mix CD by that name. These were songs about things, places, and people who were fondly remembered, but irretrievably gone. Many of Danny Schmidt’s songs here have that quality. It’s hard to do this kind of song well, and all too easy to create something that is cliched and maudlin. Danny Schmidt does very well indeed.

Schmidt’s best bittersweet song here is Grampa Built Bridges. Here is a man whose dignity has deserted him with the coming of old age. But, in his youth, he constructed these structural marvels, like some thing out of a fairytale. Schmidt eloquently expresses both the wonderment and the sense of loss.

Southland Street talks about the pride of an auto worker, from before the factory first moved to Mexico, and then to Asia. The Serpentine Cycle of Money is about a fortune found and lost. Both are fine examples of this kind of song.

But, there is more to Schmidt’s writing than that. His method is to leave out details, and let the listener fill them in; in Two Timing Bank Robber’s Lament this leads to an amusing surprise. You may need to listen twice to see what happened here; do it. The payoff on this one is great. I found myself filling in details for Swing Me Down. In a dance like the Virginia Reel, or a contradance, a row of men faces a row of women; in the course of the dance, each man will take each woman in the line into his arms for a swing. But, the first verse makes reference to driving, and the “women” in the song have names of states. So I take this to be a metaphor for a touring musician who greets each new destination with joy.

In only one place does Schmidt’s writing fail me. Firestorm tells the tale of a man who has learned to control his aggressive tendencies for the sake of the woman he loves; in the end, something horrible happens to her, (exactly what is not spelled out), and he releases all of that aggression either to save her or for revenge. This one leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Musically, most of these songs could be performed by Schmidt alone, with just his singing and acoustic guitar. His voice is musical, but has a conversational quality. And his guitar playing is fine, folkish with a touch of blues here and there. Voice and guitar together do fine job of conveying the emotional range of these songs. But, in the studio, the songs are embellished with a light touch. There are wonderful backing vocals by Carrie Elkin or Joia Wood. Drums and bass are subtle, helping the songs along without ever drawing attention to themselves. Sometimes there is a fiddle, or an accordion, or a harmonica, each serving the song, and making a welcomed contribution.
The Serpentine Cycle of Money gets the closest thing here to a full rock arrangement, and is probably the most different from what it would sound like live. It doesn’t sound bad by any means, but it does stand out from the rest of the album. And I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

Overall, though, this is fine album that I can heartily recommend. And it makes want to see Schmidt live.

Danny Schmidt: Swing Me Down

Danny Schmidt: Two Timing Bank Robber‘s Lament


My friend Susan was the first to introduce me to the music of Danny Schmidt. She is currently going through a rough time. I would like to dedicate this post to her.


Progress report: I am still in the process of putting files for my older album review posts onto my new file host. So, if something you wanted to hear wasn’t working, please try again.


boyhowdy said...

Having had him play our home, I can assure you that danny Schmidt live is amazing, though I'm very much looking forward to the opportunity to seeing him with Carrie Elkin by his side for harmonies as well.

Susan said...

Hey, Darius ~

I am beyond touched - thank you so much... <3

Synchronistically, I saw Danny in a house concert last evening (with Jonathan Byrd and Doug & Telisha Williams), 30 minutes from my mom's home (my sister sat with her so I could take a break) - he dedicated Grandpa Built Bridges to me... and the song impacted me like never before...

I hope you do get a chance to see him live because, wonderful as *all* his CDs are, the real joy comes in the up-close-and-personal of his lyrics, voice and guitar skills - not to mention that he is a kind, witty and smart young man...