Luke Daniels – Singing Ways to Feel More Junior
Gael Music – 24 November 2017
It’s fair to point out that any musician who takes the time to restore a big old German music box and then creates a computer program to cut new and unique discs for the thing is worthy of our attention. And if you flick further through the CV, names like Cara Dillon crop up alongside contributions to the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit soundtracks, highlighting the fact that Luke Daniels is an artist who has been fiercely innovative these past few years. Thankfully, on this new set, he has not disappointed us with a lazy set of songs in any way. In fact, this is the first time I have ever been tempted to praise anybody for singing the lines ‘McDonald’s, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut’ (‘Penny in the Slot‘). These twelve new songs demonstrate that the man is clearly a bona fide original.
Daniels is also a musician with his finger on the pulse, but one who seems reluctant to create songs about serious themes that drown us in drones and cellos. ‘Penny in the Slot‘ starts with a pretty refrain introducing the ‘through the years of isolation, markets state their claim / learn to look about them without fearing / cruel and unkind, when you’re falling behind‘ lyrics. This could get bleak, but instead in comes a chirpy percussion beat with the cheerfully repeated ‘put a penny or a nickel in the slot now‘ line leading into the branded modern nursery rhyme above. The song pairs nicely with current single ‘The House that Jack Built‘, a biting commentary on gender equality featuring an apt duet with Delagos singer Emma Pollock: ‘Gender’s but a race my love, that’s run out all the way… Cleopatra, Empress Wu-Jinn, Elizabeth the First / Exceptions to the rule my love, ain’t that the truth and worse?‘ Maybe nothing’s going to change, but we’ll sing about it in such a way to make it difficult for you not to sing along. Now there’s the way to get a real folk song into our bloodstream.
Things move along quickly through the lovely title track, which starts as a piano ballad, echoing the lyrics of ‘Penny in the Slot’: ‘Many roads lead to gold and silver / Please let this one lead me far away instead‘. Daniels is seen through his words as being a man filled with anxieties about the many maniacal issues circling us these days, but also one who believes intrinsically in the power of art and the messages and encouragement that can be found in song. This continues on the next track, ‘Let’s not Waste Another Day‘, a simple ukulele and vocal harmony led lesson in remaining present and appreciating what is around us: ‘I said I think we could be happy all our days / There’s no need to find a reason, ‘cos you got me on my knees…‘ An artist who sprang to mind throughout this one was Jack Johnson, which, although ‘Another Day’ feels more Gospel, is no bad thing, as he is a song writer and musician with an uncanny ability to create a spread of warmth through many of his songs.
The mood shifts into one bringing to mind shaking heads and empty glasses with ‘Strange Power‘, a song of robust beauty. The arrangement here doesn’t try to be optimistic in the face of adversity, but instead laments the decisions of a past with sturdy piano and violin arrangements, backing it up with a strong drum beat and a slide on steel strings just audible behind it all. The narrator here is not quite defeated, but a lot of naivety has been lost and the weary regret is replaced by simple honesty: ‘This time I’ll really see it through / This time I’m done pretending to you / I know I’ve let you down before‘. It’s an unashamedly puffed up song with arrangements to match it, but that fiddle line with Daniels’ melodeon coming in late on is great stuff.
It never lets the listener sit still for long, this album. From the above track, the set jumps across the Atlantic and picks up a kazoo to accompany some honky-tonk piano for a suitably clown-like message to a certain individual’s mother in ‘Elizabeth Trump and Sons‘, before flinging us back to the south of England for ‘A Berkshire Lad‘. This one adopts a Richard Thompson-esque vocal to tell a pastoral of memory, folklore and nostalgia from a small life where one is destined to remain in life and memory. The arrangement here is more traditional, with Daniels displaying more of his box playing skills, and the result is a short sweet little number that achieves plenty in its simple music and story-telling.
Although this album is full of fascinating and meticulously crafted songs, all patiently letting one another play out, special mention must go to penultimate track ‘What Becomes of Gilgamesh‘, the biggest and most ambitious on this list, coming complete with a slightly muffled ‘This Land is Your Land‘ Guthrie sample. The Gilgamesh is an epic hero from the Akkadian poem, widely considered the first work of literature. This historical king-cum-divine hero is notable for building walls around the city to protect his people from invaders and is a good excuse to wrap up an effective commentary on more present concerns. It also leads very nicely into the conclusion to this beguiling and memorable album, which is a cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Don’t you Worry ‘Bout a Thing‘, recorded with simple jazz acoustic guitar planted in the fore and a relaxed vocal re-affirming the underlying message spread across another highly innovative collection.
Singing Ways to Feel More Junior is out today on Gael Music
Order it here: http://smarturl.it/singing-ways-to-feel