Album Review – Dalton Domino’s “Feverdreamer”

You know you’ve stumbled upon a great songwriter when the music gets in the way. You know you’ve stumbled upon an even better one when they don’t allow it to. You know you have something special when no matter what style or instrumentation brought to a song, it still doesn’t feel like it does it justice—that even assigning genre to something almost diminishes it’s weight somehow. Music itself even seems like an inferior medium from the way the words resonate in the mind, heart, and spirit.

This no man’s land between genres and mediums is where some of the greatest songwriters in history were forced to reside during much of their careers, often relying on time to reveal their eventual brilliance. Sometimes you just have to appreciate a song for what it is, and shove all other concerns aside. That’s what Dalton Domino does on his latest release Feaverdreamer, and the result is arguably the best record of his career.

It’s a career for Dalton Domino that is kind of a mess at the moment. Last month we were discussing whether he’d quit music for good. We weren’t being fatalistic or presumptuous, it’s kind of what Domino alluded to in a missive he posted on social media, though you also knew at the time this was Dalton being Dalton. If you’re trying to figure out a method to Domino’s madness, you’re not alone, and that company also probably includes Dalton Domino himself.

This Lubbock-based songwriter is basically winging it at this point. He’s always had a hard time finding his place within the Texas music scene. Is he a songwriter first? A future headliner who needs to be flanked by leads guitar player putting on a raucous stage show? Something in between? Is he country, or more of a rock-infused alt-folk kind of guy just as apt to call upon keyboards to back him up as a guitar? Whatever you want to call it, he’s just released an album that might be one of the year’s best.

There’s no shortage of quarantine-spawned Coronavirus acoustic albums out there glutting the marketplace with hastily-written tracks captured on scratchy recordings. You can’t blame artists for trying to recuperate some of that lost touring revenue. But even when a performer is not out there trying to rhyme things with “toilet paper,” you still question the wisdom of releasing good songs with bad, living room production.

That’s not what what you get from Dalton Domino’s Feverdreamer, at all, even though that’s sort of what you’d expect Dalton to do at this point in his career. He just released a new record in late August. Has he really had the time to replenish the stockpile of quality songs since then? The answer is a resounding “yes.”

But before we even get to the songs themselves, don’t approach Feaverdreamer as an acoustic album recorded at home, even though technically, that’s what it is. What Dalton does is what so many don’t do when conducting this exercise, which is making sure there is enough variety of approaches and moods between songs to break up the humdrum of your average unplugged effort.

Listening to Feaverdreamer, you don’t even recognize it’s an acoustic album at all. Adding just a little bit of overdub here and there, transitioning to keys in a couple of moments, apparently asking a neighbor to add some harmonies to a chorus or two makes Feverdreamer feel very rich and alive, and you almost don’t buy Dalton’s story this was recorded DIY from the way the guitar tones come bursting out clear and crisp. You even get those little nuances in volume, tone, and fret noise that really help put you right in the room with Dalton, one on one, letting the words and sounds wash over you in a way you can feel in your bones.

The volume between tracks is the only faux pas of Feverdreamer. The song “Either Way” is so much louder than the others, for example. This is a mastering issue fair to blame on COVID-19, and a fast-to-market approach. Aside from this, if nothing else, this record should be a template for every artist considering this exercise of how to do it right, and in a way that proves acoustic albums cannot only equal the quality of studio efforts, it can best them if done right.

But again, it’s the songs that you come here for. The opening number “We’re All Gonna Die” feels like one of the many Coronavirus-inspired tracks that you’ve heard dozens of times at this point via grainy livestreams. But from there, Feverdreamer is one haymaker landed squarely after another, delivered in an environment that demands your undivided attention.

In the months preceding Feverdreamer and the Coronaviurs quarantine, Dalton Domino had booked himself on an acoustic house show tour. This was the perfect setup to recording this album, where he had to hold attentive audiences in intimate settings, experimenting with arrangement, tempo, volume, and approach to keep people entertained with limited resources. Capturing all that on record after this experience became easy, and along with everything else, it reveals what a delicate ear Dalton has, and how good of a guitar player he is.

We could broach a discussion about the themes and movements of the songs themselves, but almost like assigning them a style or genre, this would feel like a reduction of the efforts, fraught with spoilers and feeble attempts to confine this poetry to an individual perspective. You just have to listen. And if you do, and intently, you may just find the defining record of the quarantine era.

Two guns up (9/10)

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