Daniel Romano is a hipster.
There, I said it so you don’t have to, and so the rapacious wolves out there ready and willing to pounce on this Canadian bastard and characterize him as a carpetbagger from an indie rock band who doesn’t have half the authenticity of REAL (all caps) country artists can just ravage themselves on the red meat of righteousness and we can just wipe the issue away and steady our focus on what we really should be worried about: the music.
What a hipster even is anymore here some 18 months after the cultural phenomenon has come and gone is up for debate itself, and why we even cared so much if someone was a hipster or not seems like such an ancillary concern now. The simple fact is most hipsters (whoever they were) fostered a creative and independent-minded enthusiasm for artistic expression, and whether that expression was in the country music realm or somewhere else, it was always a little more amenable than the cultural acquiescence of the mainstream.
But admittedly, if you’re looking for an example of a hipster, at least in the country music realm, Daniel Romano may not make a bad specimen. Frankly, when I heard the first cut from Romano’s new album If I’ve Only One Time Askin’, I was more than a little afraid this new album might be the moment when the traditional country fans lured in by his classic sound might find themselves feeling betrayed. The fake string sounds seemed disingenuous. Using a Roland TR- 808 drum machine in the tracking sounded like a terrible idea. On paper at least, it felt like Daniel had disrespected the album making process a bit with this new record.
But again, what’s the most important thing we should be worried about? The music. And in the case of If I’ve Only One Time Askin’, Daniel Romano delivers the classic country gold in the present day context just as good, if not better than anyone else around can.
And when I say “classic country gold,” I’m not talking hard-twangin’ honky tonk, I’m talking Golden Era Countrypolitan stuff—the sequined string-and-chorus music that crossed over into pop, and what the Outlaws rebelled against in the mid 70’s. That’s another reason to hate this record if you’re so inclined—because officially it’s country pop, at least in the classic sense. And while were continuing to pick on poor Daniel Romano, I’ll just mention that he’s not blessed with some amazing, one-of-a-kind voice (though he does great with what he has to work with). It’s also tough to label this music “original.” It’s more fair to call it “interpretive.” Romano’s more about evoking an era than defining the cutting edge.
But again, the music speaks for itself, and delivers. Just like classic old country songs from the 60’s that still hold up today, Daniel has the insight to pinpoint a very specific emotional defect embedded in the human condition, and then create the favorable environment for that emotional frailty to be called to the forefront through poetic insight set to precisely-appropriate music. Songs like “Old Fires Die,” “The One That Got Away (Came Back Today),” “Learning To Do Without Me,” and “If You Go Your Way (I’ll Go Blind)” seize on the fear of being left alone with a classic country deftness few others know how to recreate. Some classic country artists just wished to account for one or two such cutting songs in their careers, and Romano has just cut an entire album of them and made it look quite easy.
And then you get a song like “Strange Faces” that’s hard to tell what it’s about, but sounds like a classic country version of a They Might Be Giants song, and may be the most infectious tune of the lot. Roger Miller would be proud of a song like “Two Word Joe” with its modulating chords and fierce wit, though it resolves into another sad story like most all of the songs on this album. The final song “Let Me Sleep (At The End Of A Dream)” absolutely slays the heart.
Yes, this album would have been better if Daniel had splurged for real strings, and in between each song on If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ is a string-based interlude, including one that get’s all funky with Daniel’s “Mosey” trip that is sure to cheese off some traditional country fans after they’ve otherwise been lured into this album hook, line, and sinker. And maybe Daniel Romano is a Canadian weirdo who veers towards having a superiority complex and only shops organic fair trade. But screw it, I don’t care. His music hits on things many of those hard country twangers can’t touch, and like the Golden Era classics he looks to emulate, Daniel’s music has the quality necessary to be timeless.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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