Album Review – Daniel Donato’s “A Young Man’s Country”
A strong case can be made without extending any hyperbole or prejudice to Daniel Donato that he is the best young guitarist in country music, and maybe one of the best young guitarists, period. Of course, these are subjective matters. But where guitar aficionados love to ask if would you rather hear Steve Vai or Keith Richards—meaning technique vs. taste—with Daniel Donato, you can have both. He has both the tenacity, attack and technique of the best shredders around, as well as the taste and sense of tone it takes to bring the soul out of a song and melody. And with twang taking such a strong position in his repertoire, the country music community should be both proud and honored Donato’s chosen to make his home within country’s confines.
But there is no confining Daniel Donato. He proves that time and again on his debut record A Young Man’s Country. He’s part honky tonk twang that was perfected touring with some of the best independent country names of the era and his tutelage with the Don Kelly Band at Robert’s in Nashville, which might go down in history for being the best proving ground for hot shit Tele players ever, especially since Donato is within those ranks. But Daniel is also part jam band kid who’s been very directly influenced by The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia. A Young Man’s Country is a very intrepid and inspired concoction of two distinctly American music forms fused seamlessly together in a manner that has been done before in certain other variations, but never quite like this.
If anything, A Young Man’s Country leans more towards the jam band side, and country fans should square this in their brain before listening. Instead of approaching it as a country music jam record, regard it as a jam band record that happens to have strong country influences in some of the song structure and cover selections, as well as the guitar tone. It’s very common for bluegrassers and jam banders to cross pollinate. There was a whole era in California where psychedelic rockers merged with country. But what makes Daniel Donato different is as a Nashville native, his foundation was built on country, and then he discovered psychedelia as opposed to vice versa. So unlike Jerry Garcia trying his best to emulate all of those steel bends and telecaster lines, Donato can deliver them with native perfection.
Even then, the guitar playing on A Young Man‘s Country is quite diverse. From Outlaw phase to reggae wah-wah, to just blazing lines native to nothing and everything all at the same time, Daniel Donato delivers it all with a fearlessness and imagination that is hard to not get swept up in, even if you normally scoff at jam music, or psychoactive substances never touched your tongue. The drumming on the record is also really dynamic and lights out, following Donato’s lead down rabbit holes and off cliffs where you don’t always know how you’ll land until it happens.
Some will thumb their nose at Daniel Donato’s singing, griping it’s too thin, or too high, but that’s not why you listen to an album like A Young Man’s Country. His singing is fine. It’s the guitar playing that sets everything off. Sure, if Daniel tried to hang with the straight laced country crooners and their 3-chord, 3-minute tearjerkers, he’d flounder. But he knows his strengths, and leans into them the for the majority of the record.
The hits are hits on A Young Man’s Country, but some of the misses are misses. Concerns were voiced of picking such obvious covers for the record in The Grateful Dead’s “Fire On The Mountain,” “Ain’t Living Long Line This” by Waylon Jennings, and John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” Donato absolutely slays “Fire On The Mountain” in his 9-minute rendition of a song that expectations are very hard to live up to, even if the vocals feel like an afterthought. “Angel From Montgomery” may be one of the album’s bigger misses, not really giving Donato a moment to flatter the song, or himself. An original that comes right after called “Sweet Tasting Tennessee” also feels like a slight misfire.
But the songs that anchor the record like the opener “Justice” and one of the early singles “Luck of the Draw” illustrate what Daniel Donato is capable of in this rarely-traversed space. The final three songs of the record is where Donato really sells you on his cosmic country concept. “Diamond in the Rough” is right in the Daniel Donato wheelhouse, “Forgotten Days” really shows off his with country tones, and the funky version of “Ain’t Living Long Like This” quickly makes you forget it’s not Waylon singing.
What Daniel Donato is attempting to do with A Young Man’s Country is a bold experiment, and when you’re trying new things and taking risks without a net, there might be some miscues. As talented as he is, one hopes that collaborations and guest spots continue to be regular occurrences for Donato, teaming up with stronger singers, and adding things to other people’s music than nobody else can.
But this, cool, unique, and wildly-entertaining album lays out a vision for what to do with this incredibly-talented young man that will get the world to pay attention to both his gifts, and the possibilities of country music soused with psychedelic influences that surely has been tried before, but rarely with such enthusiasm and skill, especially in the modern context.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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Purchase from Daniel Donato
Purchase from Amazon
August 7, 2020 @ 7:57 am
this has been up on bandcamp for a bit. it’s definitely in line with things i would normally be all about, but there’s something about the production that is stopping me from getting into it tho. i can’t quite put my finger on it.
August 7, 2020 @ 12:09 pm
I hate to nitpick on these things but I might agree with you. For me, it seems somehow they managed to suck the raw energy out of the playing and even singing. What should sound really lively and dynamic, somehow sounds soft, subdued, and overly mellow, even though it’s upbeat. It’s all subjective though, and other people might like that or not even agree with that description. If I was into the music, I could easily overlook it. Just something I noticed.
August 7, 2020 @ 12:55 pm
It’s because no one knows how to produce a damm album anymore.
Everyone is so anxious to leave their golden mark these days. Because, you know, they are so e-x-t-r-a.
They’re leaving a mark alright
August 7, 2020 @ 1:07 pm
I would argue it’s mostly cause he can’t sing.
August 7, 2020 @ 2:48 pm
Agreed. It’s often overlooked but talent behind the booth is severely lacking today. My favorite classic records usually had a very talented team of engineers/ producers
August 7, 2020 @ 1:37 pm
Now that you mention it. There is something not quite there. Or too much there. I think it has too much polish. Doesn’t sound raw. I like having a little dust and dirt of records like these. But still very enjoyable.
August 7, 2020 @ 2:55 pm
I’m personally not hearing any issues with the production at all. All signals are crisp with great separation and mixing. The guitar is extra loud, but on a record like this, that’s exactly what you want. Totally understandable that this style of music will not appeal to everyone, and some has been made about the thinness of Daniel’s voice. But I don’t think that’s the fault of a producer. I’d give production an A+.
August 7, 2020 @ 4:14 pm
He said he couldn’t put his finger on it and I’d agree, it’s subtle. It’s not bad by a long shot, and it wouldn’t be enough for me not to listen (not even close) …but there is not nearly enough separation between the bass, the guitar, and the kick. There’s some weird eq and levels going on, and way too much compression for me to call this even a B. Theres some weird delay on the piano and it sounds way too bright and modern for the parts being played and for this style of music. The delay on the vocals is distracting, and however his voice sounds normally, they managed to make him sound like he’s singing through a sheet. Will see if I can find some information on it, but I’d almost bet money that it was mixed in the box, and if it wasn’t, they somehow managed to flatten out any depth of field anyway. For reference, I’m referring to luck of the draw specifically. All of these things are mostly subtle, but added up they kind of make it sound a bit constrained and disjointed, which is the exact opposite of what you’d want to do with this music, IMO. Again, I hate to nitpick 😜 Anyway, it’s the music that matters most, and most people here are digging it, so jam on.
August 7, 2020 @ 8:06 am
excellent review, IMO , trigger .
” ……what Daniel Donato is capable of in this rarely-traversed space.” sums it up , I think . you can hear the passion and prowess in his playing . isn’t that 99% of what its all about ? show up CHARGED and people will respond .
this is wasted on mainstream ‘country’ radio . you need to be a music Fan with a capital ‘F’ to even begin to ‘get it ‘ . DD may be a work in progress …but so was Albert Lee , Brent Mason , Ray Flacke and Vince at one time .
Only tech note I’d make is that I think the production lacks in terms of vocal mix and a bit of polish . other than that , twang on DD .
August 7, 2020 @ 8:32 am
I think creativity is the key takeaway for me on this album. This fusion of country influenced jam band rock isn’t new, but I certainly enjoyed his take.
August 7, 2020 @ 1:40 pm
Who are others you’d put in that sub-sub-genre? As something of a Deadhead, I’d be interested in listening to them.
August 7, 2020 @ 2:09 pm
Railroad Earth definitely
August 7, 2020 @ 4:01 pm
I’d also say Greensky Bluegrass. Lastly, some of the guitar playing on this album sounds like if you gave Billy Strings a tele and some effect pedals. I’m really liking this album, enough to snatch up one of the vinyls from the Bandcamp page. His website only has CDs…and rolling papers, weirdly enough!
August 7, 2020 @ 8:36 am
Great review Trig. Donato is a real talent. I was lucky enough to catch him many times with The Don Kelly Band at Robert’s back in the day. I also got to meet him and talk shop when he played here in Knoxville pre-Rona. He told me all about envelope filters and then he gave me some stickers and a cool stage-used guitar pick. Daniel is a young guy with tons of promise. He’s an immaculate guitarist, a force of energy, a good songwriter, and I can only suspect that his singing will continue to improve with age. His full length debut is great and I can’t wait to see where he takes things from here.
August 7, 2020 @ 9:59 am
I had the privilege of seeing him play guitar for Dee White when he was opening for Ashley McBryde in Chicago a few years ago. He was playing within the confines of the songs, which obviously are focused on Dee White’s voice, but he got to let loose on a solo on one song (I cannot remember the name due to Jack Daniels, ha ha) and he absolutely floored the entire crowd. It was absolutely jaw dropping to hear the command of the instrument this kid had. He’s definitely on his way to guitar hero status, and that’s really rare in today’s music scene.
August 7, 2020 @ 2:15 pm
I saw that tour in Boston and I was so impressed with White’s set. His guitar playing was awesome. I had no idea who White was at the time and an impression was made.. I talked to him a couple times during the nite and he was just a super friendly well spoken person. After that show that couldn’t remember his name and I spent sometime trying to figure out who he was..
August 7, 2020 @ 2:17 pm
I am talking about Daniel lol
August 7, 2020 @ 2:37 pm
I got there a little late that night, I’m not a big Dee White guy so I was probably not paying that close of attention. Ironically I did that to Ashley a couple years before that when she was opening acoustically for someone I can’t remember….lol I’ve learned though now to always check the openers cred. I gave this album a listen on the iPod and yep he can play and the tunes are different in a good way. Tears it up on Fire On The Mountain, tasty drumming on that song too! I wanna crank this in the car a time or 2. I like getting different aural perspectives. Cool album cover as well.
August 26, 2020 @ 10:43 am
Well here I am again 3 weeks later and this album has been heavy in the rotation. Blasting in my car with (amp & sub) it just sounds so fuckin good. It punches, it’s crisp and clear. I personally have no problem with the mix & production and this drummer is a beast as well. Certainly top 5 of second half of 2020 so far. Lovin’ it!
August 7, 2020 @ 11:21 am
He’s like Bill Kirchen of Commander Cody from back in the day. The shroom thing has been done to death, and I don’t hear JRE levels of DMT in his guitar, but whatever. Big thumbs up. Keep on truckin’.
Speaking of which, when are we going to hear The Ballad of Hobo Stobe?
August 7, 2020 @ 4:34 pm
Didn’t the Allman Brotehrs wear that out 25 years ago?
August 7, 2020 @ 11:55 am
I LOVE this kid!
August 7, 2020 @ 11:56 am
Team Richards here, and this leans a little too Vai and Phish for me personally. But it still sounds fun and I can see why a lot of people would like it.
August 7, 2020 @ 11:59 am
I really enjoyed this one. Had the single in pretty heavy rotation since it came out, so I was anticipating the full album. It makes for a good listen to just throw on the headphones and let it play. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of jam bands, but this worked for me. It had just enough country elements to keep me wanting more. I really enjoyed the John Prine cover. One downside, I felt like Daniel’s voice got lost and drowned out in the production, but the guitar instrumentals in nearly all of the songs made up for it. An interesting note as I was going to buy the vinyl, it says that the album was cut/recorded live so that’s pretty cool.
August 7, 2020 @ 12:51 pm
He’s a picker for sure!
August 7, 2020 @ 1:18 pm
This album is amazing. I can’t stop listening to it. He can pick with the best, could he be CGP?
August 7, 2020 @ 2:15 pm
I like the album, enough to download it from Amazon.
He is a heck of a player, and able to go multiple directions with that and impress when he arrives. As a singer, though, he’s not on the same level. I think it’s fine if he continues to push himself that way, but he may get further if he remains open to not shouldering the lead vocal burden. And he’s young; the voice may change a bit yet.
Is this Country? It definitely has Country moments. Enough so that I think he proved that if Merle was still around and needed to form a band, Donato could jump right into the cornerstone role. It has a lot of other moments, too, though. Overall, I’d say Marcus King’s “El Dorado” or Samantha Fish’s “Belle of the West” are at least as Country. Still something good to review here, which put me in touch with something far more enjoyable than the latest Taylor Swift or Dixie Chicks project.
Donato is definitely a guy to follow.
August 7, 2020 @ 2:28 pm
Vocals aside, I would say that although the guitar playing is technically skilled, the melody and emotion are a bit lacking.
Although much of the SCM readership dislikes the pre-bro pop-country era, that period probably set the standard for electric guitar usage in country music. Listen to the closing guitar piece in Kenny Chesney’s “Boys of Fall”, for example. It is very near perfection.
August 7, 2020 @ 4:21 pm
This album is laughably bad. It’s like if John Mayer had a brother who made shitty country music. It sounds like it was produced in GarageBand. He’s a bad singer. He’s a bad vocalist. He’s a bad lyricist. He’s a mediocre guitar player at best. I’ve heard him praised as the next Brent Mason or Johnny Hiland and I just don’t see it. No edge. No grit. The whole record sounds like cotton candy. “Golden Hour” was almost universally considered to be a masterpiece and won Album of the Year at the 61st Grammy Awards. SCM gave it a 5.5/10. This gets an 8/10?! I’m slowly losing faith in SCM’s ability to properly evaluate country music. If you want something “cosmic” go listen to “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” or “Workingman’s Dead”. Definitely don’t bother with this dumpster fire of an album.
August 7, 2020 @ 5:09 pm
Brandon, Don Kelley retired. Donato got the nod because he could tear it up. Let it go.
August 7, 2020 @ 5:29 pm
“Workingman’s Dead” is possibly my favorite album of all time. There is nothing cosmic about it whatsoever.
Scores are opinions, meaning they’re never wrong or right. I respect yours. You can respect mine too, even if you disagree.
For the record, I gave “Metamodern Sounds” got a 10 out of 10, and named it the greatest album of the decade. Not fair to compare any record against the greatest of a decade and then call it inferior.
August 7, 2020 @ 6:08 pm
You’re right. “Workingman’s Dead” is not “cosmic” in any sense of the word. I included it since this album often gets compared to the work of the Grateful Dead. And nowhere in my rant did I ever compare “A Young Man’s Country” to “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music”. I simply suggested it as an alternative if one were in the mood for something “cosmic”. As far as opinions, while I respect your right to have one I think your opinion about this particular release is egregious. But hey that’s just my opinion. I wouldn’t come here everyday if I didn’t enjoy the content.
August 7, 2020 @ 6:26 pm
I appreciate you reading Brandon.
August 8, 2020 @ 5:02 am
Can we get a Trig’s top ten all-time album list???
Also, how about a Thursday night/ Friday morning new release post? Unless a liked artist promotes a new release on social media or you cover an album or it’s played on Outlaw (10% of daily setlist are new releases), I no longer know what’s being released anymore.
August 8, 2020 @ 7:23 am
Maybe I’ll do a personal top albums list of all time at some point, but I kind of retired from the list game. All people want to do is complain about them, no matter the parameters.
I’m probably not going to do a weekly release radar post simply because the amount varies so much each week. Sometimes there not really any records worth promoting. BUT, I do keep my “Most Anticipated” posts that I publish 3 or 4 times a year regularly updated, and I tell folks to go back and check them every Friday. I don’t take anything out, but I add to them and they’re pretty accurate.
Also if it’s an especially heavy day, I will send a tweet out running down all the releases, and I will also put links to important albums in the news crawl at the top of the site.
Also fair warning, August 28th is going to be a monster release day, maybe one of the biggest ever, right up there with February 15th of last year. May post a dedicated article running all the releases down on that day.
August 8, 2020 @ 2:06 pm
I bookmarked “Most Anticipated” and will try to check the twitter machine more often. Thanks!
August 7, 2020 @ 5:33 pm
Jealous much … ?
August 7, 2020 @ 5:10 pm
He missed his generation. If he were around for 70s classic rock or 80s metal era, he could be huge, cause daaaamn he is good technically. But now and for country…. I dunno, didn’t grab me.
King Honky Of Crackershire
August 7, 2020 @ 6:55 pm
The singing is pretty bad. Impossible for me to listen to, actually. Not everybody can be Vince Gill. If you’re just a great guitar player, be a great guitar player. Leave the singing to the singers.
August 7, 2020 @ 8:07 pm
Agree with review.. some songs that didn’t click with you I am enjoying. Will see how it plays out on long run, but I like it. It is an easy listen for sure and he sure can play. Drummer is pretty damn good too.. there is a scene for this. Unfortunately for him, it’s the live environment which is non existent.. there are some really superb young guitar talent out these days.
August 7, 2020 @ 8:44 pm
For your next album review…
MAYBE YOUR HEART IS A LITTLE LESS BROKEN THAN MINE….. A LITTLE LESS BROKEN THAN MINE. 🎶 🎶
Luke Bryan just put out an incredible song!!! Kenny Rogers feels right there. Please Capitol Records… Please let this be a future single to radio. Wow
August 8, 2020 @ 5:53 am
It’s a nice song – probably too good for radio, though.
August 7, 2020 @ 9:44 pm
I love this album. There is obviously a lot of Grateful Dead inspiration, and that’s probably why it’s not for everyone. I think the production is great.
August 8, 2020 @ 6:15 am
Well…the album is 0,69€ on Google Play here right now!
Every track is 0,69€ too.
Even the 0,69€ for the whole album can’t bring me to the point to buy the album.
The hodgepodge of styles & sounds…the uneven production…the thin voice…
…not my kind of country.
August 8, 2020 @ 7:40 am
I have this album on repeat
August 8, 2020 @ 8:06 am
Ditto on the Vince Gill comment. Eric Clapton wasn’t a great singer, and still isn’t despite years of singing. He’s improved a bit. Give this kid some time, his singing voice may improve with time. I enjoyed the album and look forward to hearing the next one.
August 10, 2020 @ 10:43 am
Finally got a chance to hit this one cover to cover.
Before reading the review – I normally skip to the grade, then listen -, had texted a buddy and said “Dead and Company w/Mayer X country/western roots with a dude that looks and sounds like Ryan Adams singing. It’s insane, unlike anything I’ve heard in a long time”.
The Tedeschi Trucks crowd would love this album.
August 12, 2020 @ 6:57 am
Take a listen to Forgotten Days – thought it was Railroad of Sin by Sturgill for a hot second.
August 13, 2020 @ 5:57 am
Cannot stop listening to this album. Then again country music and The Dead are two of the things I listen to the most so it’s perfect for me.
September 29, 2020 @ 10:30 am
THANK YOU, TRIGGER and SCM readers! I appreciate all of the words, favorable and non-favorable! I hope y’all stay Cosmic! #COSMICCOUNTRY