Some sounds stay with you for a lifetime: the crackle and fuzz of a radio station blaring from the tinny speakers of a Datsun; the same songs coming from a small table top radio in the backyard on a warm sunny night. There was a time when AM stations ruled the airwaves and country and western hadn't yet become either New or Alt. Willie and Emmylou and Steve hadn't become elder statesmen yet. It was the 70s, and I was young kid discovering music the way we all do: through the stuff our parents listen too.
It's these sounds and memories that have been with me in the couple of weeks since Come Cry with Me, the newest release from Daniel Romano, landed in my inbox. If you grew up in the era, this is an album that will seem instantly familiar. Romano can be a bit of a musical chameleon at times. A few years ago he toured and released an album with Julie Doiron and Fred Squire. That tour presented traditional folk songs in a quiet, intimate show. He's also done producing work and tours with City & Colour, a band that fits the Alt side of the country equation fairly well (whatever, as the masthead says, that is.)
As a solo artist though, the chameleon tends towards the classic drawl and twang of the country music of the 70s. The homage is intentional and respectful: the cover features a cowboy hat wearing, sequined Nudie suit clad Romano sitting on a stool and and a typeface straight from the opening credits of a John Wayne western. It's perfect for the illusion contained within.
I never like making musical comparisons but it's hard not too in this case: from the opening notes Romano seems to be simultaneously channeling classic Willie Nelson, the quiet side of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. The drum beats are slow and gentle and there's plenty of slide guitar as a backdrop to Romano's voice and guitar. It's music that feels like a visit from an old friend with a glass of whiskey in hand.
If there's a consistent thread that runs through Romano's varied output it's incredibly strong songwriting. The material here is no exception. In keeping with the album's theme, these aren't happy songs though. The album's opener Middle Child's chorus chimes in with "momma tell me / why'd you leave the middle child". Two Pillar Sleeper laments "one that catches the tear drops / that fall from my face / and one right beside me / to lie in your place." Even the story of Chicken Bill's upbeat happy twang, is a stark contrast to the dark mystery in the lyrics.
Badly done, an album like this can be a trip down memory lane that leaves you wanting the original more than what you have in your hands. That's not the case here: this isn't so much a nostalgia trip as it is a riff on and tribute to the best of another era. Romano's commitment to the idea of the album is so pure and the execution so well done that the album deserves a place on the shelf of any fan of what's typically called traditional country music. It's a high fidelity update of days gone by, and one that's destined to be considered a classic in its own right as time goes by.
If, as it turns out, you miss that crackle and fuzz you can always head down to your local Salvation Army, pick up a vintage tape deck and make a tape to play in the car when you go for a drive with your father. It'll take you back to a time when you were younger, your world was simpler and a little happiness could be found in a record full of short sad songs well played on a a slide guitar--not a bad thing at all.