Austin (Texas)-based singer-songwriters are two-a-penny these days it would seem, and I’m sure we here in the UK don’t even get to hear about half of them. Danny Schmidt, however, just has to be counted among the finest of them, although his isn’t exactly a household name even among devotees of the contemporary singer-songwriter scene.
Over the past half-dozen years in particular, Danny has gained a strong cult following for the deeply lyrical poetry of his writing, which he makes a virtue of understatement as he manages almost effortlessly to combine this with a pronounced gift for melody. Danny’s output hasn’t been especially geared to intense bursts of single-minded creativity; instead he might choose to wait for a few years to amass a set of songs that work together for an album. Previous collections like Little Grey Sheep (2007) and Instead The Forest Rose To Sing (2009) proved a case in point there, drawing on several years of his writing, and Owls continues in that personal tradition.
Danny’s work is characterised by a beauty in the simplicity of its expression, a quietly compelling demeanour that draws the listener in immediately. On Owls, Danny’s seventh studio album, the tone of the production (by David “Goody” Goodrich) is ideal in that it perfectly cradles Danny’s own distinctive and captivating delivery, his trademark softly tremulous singing, within undemonstrative yet highly atmospheric musical settings courtesy of a small but intimate “house band” comprising Goody himself with Lloyd Maines, Andrew Pressman and Mike Meadows, with harmony vocals from partner Carrie Elkin and Daniel Thomas Phipps.
Danny’s writing has invoked comparisons with the likes of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, notably in the context of his use of parable and allegory, but Danny’s craft is often more complex in that the most immediately obvious interpretation is not necessarily the principal argument. Fittingly, therefore, Owls’ eleven songs are seen to be united by the themes of identity and transformation, often in the context of love and romance, but – unusually – their stories more often than not seem to be being told almost at a remove, as if from the vantage point (as opposed to internal perspective) of the owl, say, perched on a branch overhead. It’s not quite a detached viewpoint, however, as Danny’s singing voice embodies and exudes its own brand of compassion as he shares his thoughts and feelings with the listener.
Best of the impressive bunch of new songs this time round are the ominous Bad Year For Cane, the painfully nostalgic Paper Cranes, the moody, persuasive homily Soon The Earth Will Swallow and the gently thoughtful All The More To Wonder, but there’s no weak song on this collection (even The Guns And The Crazy Ones manages to escape its over-familiar thematic straitjacket), and each successive listen reveals fresh angles and insights.
Everything a contemporary troubadour singer-songwriter album should be… and the album’s lyrics are all available on Danny’s website.
Review by: David Kidman
solo shows w/Carrie singing harmonies
SEP 24 SOUTHPORT, UK – The Atkinson
SEP 25 SHEFFIELD, UK – The Shakespeare Pub
SEP 26 KIRTON IN LINDSEY, UK – Town Hall Kirton
SEP 27 SALTAIRE, UK – The Live Room in the Caroline Social Club
SEP 28 BIRMINGHAM, UK – The Kitchen Garden Cafe
SEP 29 SWANSEA, UK – Born in Americana at Café Nissé
SEP 30 BATH, UK – Chapel Arts Centre
OCT 01 LONDON, UK – The Green Note
OCT 02 LEWES, UK – Union at The Con Club
OCT 03 FAVERSHAM, UK – Private Event
OCT 04 BASINGSTOKE, UK – The Forge at The Anvil
OCT 10 GLASGOW, UK – Glasgow Americana Festival at The Glad Café
Photo Credit: Chris Carson