Humankind’s foibles and failings are explored in the image rich Owls.
Austin, Texas based Danny Schmidt (vocals, guitar) is supported on Owls by album producer David Goodrich (guitars, piano) and recording engineer Keith Gary (piano), plus Mike Meadows (drums, percussion), Andrew Pressman (bass) and Lloyd Maines (steel guitar), while harmony vocals are furnished by Danny’s spouse Carrie Elkin, plus Daniel Thomas Phipps and Ali Holder. Back home in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, Goodrich (Chris Smither, Redbird) operates his own studio; Owls was recorded just south of Austin at the Fire Station in San Marcos. For the uninitiated, since 1985 it’s been a recording studio operated by Texas State University.
Released on Danny’s own imprint, Live Once Records, if you’re aware of his early 21st history that title possesses a mighty resonance. Funded via a Kickstarter campaign, and further affirming their bond, this is the third consecutive collaboration by Schmidt and Gary. The pair co-produced Danny’s previous solo outing Man Of Many Moons (2011); Keith recorded and mixed the SchmElkin collaboration For Keeps (2014) and retains that credit on this set. Casting, as it does, a backward glance to “Dark-Eyed Prince” on Schmidt’s Parables & Primes (2005), “Girl With Lantern Eyes” launches Owls. This tale of a man searching for love is deftly woven in metaphor and allegory; having possibly found the one, the narrator describes her as “a storm of sunny weather.” I think I’ve bumped into this person on a number of occasions. America’s gun laws could be referred to as laissez faire. Contemplating this obviously broken system “The Guns & The Crazy Ones” alludes to the patent “insanity” in “the home of the free and brave” and prays for humanistic intervention and radical repair. While the latter relates to a specific cancer experienced by one nation, the ensuing “Soon The Earth Shall Swallow” warns of global apocalypse if we continue failing to treat this planet’s environment with respect.
According to an entry on Schmidt’s web site when it comes to the idiom of simply believing he always requires further proof. In pursuit of the sceptic’s path, “Faith Will Always Rise” is a “secular gospel tune” inspired by a personal struggle to define “certainty in uncertainty.” “Bad Year For Cane” portrays an extreme annus horriblis. Deserted by his spouse, when a combine (harvester) took one of the farmer’s arms tending his land became considerably harder. With the land, and the farmer, crying out for rain, Schmidt wraps up this dilemma with the repeated “It’ll all grow back again, We’ve all been led by a promise that the heart can mend.” The natural world is further explored via glorious creations such as sunsets, the desert floor, mountains, a half moon and the Northern Lights in “Looks Like God,” while “Cries Of Shadows” amounts to a contemplation regarding our second self.
Snapshots overflowing with colour and movement grace “All The More To Wonder,” thereby furnishing a guide to observing one’s fellow man. Verse-upon-verse Maria, a recluse for many years, progresses from her “window” to “doorsteps” to “garden” to wearing a wedding dress on an “alter” in “Cry On The Flowers.” During her darker days, Maria’s tears “revived” the dirt making flowers bloom. “Paper Cranes” is a paean to days filled with worthwhile toil, human interaction and origami. With stalwart support from an electric band, the lyric to album closer “Wings Of No Restraint” possesses a Dylanesque touch. On his web site Danny relates that his focus was an acquaintance “who’s drifting off into an abyss,” while in the context of “soil” or “earth” this is the sixth song (in this set of eleven) where the word “dirt” is an essential lyrical ingredient.
Brought to you from the desk of the Folk Villager.