Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Danny Schmidt - Man of Many Moons


When I reviewed Danny Schmidt’s last album, instead the forest rose to sing, I said, “… most of these songs could be performed by Schmidt alone, with just his singing and acoustic guitar.” On Man of Many Moons, that’s very nearly what happens. There is also bass and second guitar on most songs, and harmonica on one song and a whispering piano is on at least one other. I really can’t be sure about the piano, because it’s way down in the mix, and very subtle. Carrie Elkin and Raina Rose contribute soft background vocals. But the attention is squarely on Schmidt’s playing and singing, and therefore on the songs rather than the arrangements. This gives the album as a whole an intimacy that makes Schmidt a good friend by the time you reach the last song. But this is not a set of confessional songs. Schmidt displays warmth and good humor, but some of the lyrics are like Zen teaching tales, offering material for pleasant contemplation rather than direct statements. The songs can also be enjoyed just for the sound of them. The music is wonderful, and Schmidt puts words together in ways that please the ears.

I am letting myself off the hook for interpreting some of the lyrics. Schmidt has issued a warning to me and other reviewers about this. I posted two songs which appear back to back on the album. Guilty By Association Blues comments on the state of the world in a humorous way by using animals as proxies for the singer’s feelings. The singer is thus, theoretically, not responsible for the actions of the animals, but Schmidt is winking at us in this song; he knows better. Almost Round the World follows, and presents a shaggy dog story of how the lyrics of the previous song become the starting point for a global game of whisper down the lane. I hope this didn’t really happen. Almost Round the World seems to me to be a hilarious comic exaggeration, and a wonderful song. But this is why I am reluctant to interpret the lyrics where I am not sure of Schmidt’s meaning. I wouldn’t want to start something like what Almost Round the World describes.

That said, I can tell you that Houses Sing, which opens the album, is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in a while, and it has been stuck in my head all day. Schmidt eloquently explains the difference between a house and a home. Little White Angels describes a drug addiction without preaching at all, and Schmidt is able to sympathize with the addict while still having a clear vision of the danger she is in. I believe that Two Guitars is about trying to write a song for the one you love, and it seems to me that Schmidt has more than succeeded. And On Abundance is a reminder to be grateful for what you have, even when it does not seem to be much; this is another time when Schmidt is eloquent without being preachy. The one cover here is a warm version of Bob Dylan’s Buckets of Rain, and Schmidt’s version fits in beautifully with his own work. I find the rest of his originals here to be somewhat enigmatic, but they invite further thought. At his most mystical, Schmidt stills welcomes you in, both with his words and his performance. When I heard his last album, I thought I would enjoy seeing him live. I still haven’t had the chance, but now I’m sure I would enjoy it immensely.

Danny Schmidt: Guilty by Association Blues

Danny Schmidt: Almost Around the World


boyhowdy said...

I've seen Danny live in my living room, Darius, and let me tell you, it's an utterly amazing, intimate experience. And his Buckets of Rain - which he covered by request at our house - is always poignant.