Year of the Album — #020
Danny Schmidt – “Man of Many Moons” (2011, Red House Records)
Austin’s Danny Schmidt is one of those folk songwriters you have to hear to fully believe. I’ve followed his music for more than a decade, and have seen him live in “house concert” format, during which time he performed for a crowd of half a dozen as though they were a packed house, intimately exposing his music to rapt listeners who, I’m sure, became ardent fans.
His latest effort, 2011′s Man of Many Moons, is his seventh full-length album, his second on Red House Records, and it’s also one of his most cohesive and consistent listens. From the mournful harmonies of “Little White Angels” to the quiet acoustic pickings of “Know Thy Place” and everything in between, the album’s a studied examination of the modern idea of art, the forsaking of privacy for the sake of artistic expression, and all the ways musicians expose their innermost creative workings to audiences with no guarantee they’ll ever really be understood.
I could go on forever talking about intricate details of the songs themselves, but they’re best examined via close headphone listening, without a lot of pre-screened critical interference. But suffice it to say, the material within these eleven tracks is some of the most impressive Schmidt has written to date — managing to be both lyrically complex and musically spare, which serves the songs well as a whole.
The album’s centerpiece is a pair of songs at its midpoint — “Guilty By Association Blues” and “Almost Around The World.” On the former, Schmidt has crafted a humorous political pastiche through the use of animal imagery, and the latter is an example of what can happen in our modern world of instant communication, when bits and pieces of a lyric get lost in translation. As a pair, the two songs form a whole which is unforgettable, both amusing and thought provoking. Like the best folk music, you’re sure to want to play them for others so you can get them into the discussion.
Man Of Many Moons is a treat for folk music listeners of all ages, an album which is as rewarding to hear the tenth time as the first, chock full of memorable melodies and lyrical flourishes. As a whole it speaks as a product of its time, a modern folk album which can still stand with the classics of the genre. Sing Out magazine called Schmidt a force of nature, and if you don’t buy that, give this album a listen.
Year of the Album — #015
The Wailin’ Jennys – “Bright Morning Stars” (2011, Red House Records)
If you’re looking for the next great crossover folk album, look no further than the Wailin’ Jenny’s Bright Morning Stars. The album, from Winnipeg, Manitoba’s Juno-award winning folk combo, is one of the finest folk albums to come out in years, blending classic Americana songwriting with a tinge of early Dixie Chicks styled harmonics, and it’s the kind of album which plays so cohesively from start to finish it will dare you not to listen repeatedly.
Bright Morning Stars is currently charting at #12 on Billboard’s Folk Albums chart and at #4 on the Bluegrass chart. Wouldn’t it be great, though, if the album were to catch on with fans of general country? In a world where Taylor Swift is a worldwide superstar bringing pop music to so called “traditional” country stations, it’s about time real roots music made a comeback. This album is the most deserving so far of 2011 to get that shot.
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