Friday, April 8, 2011
Sleep Beneath the Willow - Daniel Romano (Spring Albums 2011)
Sleep Beneath the Willow
You’ve Changed Records.
SCQ Rating: 85%
If Workin’ For the Music Man required some gestation time, it was likely because Daniel Romano’s solo debut had more in common with the Daniel, Fred & Julie collaboration than anything the songwriter had done with Attack In Black. Old-time country and heartbreaking folk ran deeper in his veins than that one-off project could satisfy, and Romano has now placed all of his cards on the table with the resonating Sleep Beneath the Willow.
Armed with the rich production of a 70s country record, Sleep Beneath the Willow allows Romano to converse with the legacies of Conway Twitty and George Jones on a near level playing-field. Granted, Romano is dutifully playing tribute to an era of country these giants created but the authenticity of these songs go hand in hand with the Attack In Black frontman's originality. Opener ‘Time Forgot (To Change My Heart)’ catches up to Romano singing in a low, almost Johnny Cash-styled register but his range – which loosens up for the track’s spellbinding chorus – quickly becomes recognized as just another small risk taken by this former punk-rocker. The core idea of crafting a country album in the spirit of bygone AM radio favourites should be ostracizing for artist and listeners alike but instead it’s kismet; as surely as ‘Hard On You’ should be considered a modern classic, this era was Romano’s to successfully tap. Electric guitars resonate with pedal steel as atmosphere behind the subdued ‘Knowing That You’re Mine’, fiddle drifts over the bare acoustics of ‘Paul and Jon’ and female backing-vocals dress even the most devastating ballads with soft bar-booth illumination.
In fact, the greatest risk Romano takes with this project is perhaps his determination to stick by Sleep Beneath the Willow’s muse so stringently. Due to its predominantly downcast tempo, early listens tend to blur groups of songs into a twilight haze of bittersweet sadness. Stick with it, however, and Romano’s latest proves powerful enough to make the convincing Workin’ For the Music Man sound transitional by comparison. Some wisely placed upbeat numbers also shake potential listener malaise; ‘Helen’s Restaurant’ offers a shot-in-the-arm of honky-tonk rock whereas ‘There Are Lines In My Face’ infuses a grumbling low-end to define its wonderfully heavy subject matter. Sleep Beneath the Willow is just the latest chapter in a discography destined to become one of Canada’s cherished.