Atlanta, Georgia’s Danny Brewer is Besides Daniel and he has had several releases through the years – all a blend of nice melodies with thoughtful lyrics about life, daydreaming, coffeehouses and adventure but – maybe not as prophetic as Leonard Cohen, as down in the gutter and gritty as Tom Waits, or as diversified as Bob Dylan – but, Besides Daniel has some endearing qualities to its showcase and Danny’s young – we’ll give him time.
With the ten-track Teeming, Besides Daniel provides enough interesting moments to be quite favorable — especially with his vocal prowess, and thankfully he isn’t one of those young whiny singers. BD does do a lot of whispering, but he at least knows when to whisper and when to sing. He’s not as inventive as solo Syd Barrett (former Pink Floyd guitarist and founder) or as melancholy as the late Nick Drake. Yet, there is a mood that’s set against his compositions.
“Watering the Garden,” and “Wonderfully Made,” are both arranged with a liberal intensity. The instrumentation is performed laid back and well – nothing bombastic or in your face. Besides Daniel has a very personable vocal style – it’s as if he’s singing to you, (how many times have you heard that?) — seated on your bed between sips of tea and whiskey. But it’s because BD is not trying to be an entertainer, a showman — he’s a singer-songwriter and he knows it. And with these songs — he succeeds. There is a hint at times that Besides Daniel could let go a little more vocally if he wanted to but is more concerned with maintaining his style and his character.
“French Braid,” has wonderful acoustic guitar picking with a David Blue, Eric Andersen, John Martyn approach that is endearing. If Beside Daniel wanted to try and capture a Leonard Cohen within his own youthful presentation — he has done it here. There is still a little tinge of Syd Barrett weirdness in the lyrics, but it’s offset by the beauty of the music and arrangement. I like that Besides Daniel decorates his melodies with sideshows of musicality. His vocals are deeper on this song with little pieces of falsetto – but, it would work far better if he ever employs a female vocalist to accompany him — not always, just some of the time. The intensity would be raised.
More acoustic guitar-oriented falsetto songs continue with “Apologize,” and while I am not a big fan of falsetto Besides Daniel doesn’t over do it. He is very capable on guitar and the song has lift. This sounds almost early Simon and Garfunkel before Columbia Records added all the instruments to their otherwise acoustic tunes on their first album. At least Besides Daniel is not emulating Prince’s falsetto which at times could grate the ear. This song adds some piano and moves along with some bright notes and it doesn’t wear out its welcome.
By track six, as a producer, I would have suggested Besides Daniel insert a song with some energy but here “Live Alone,” continues with quality – but, it’s still in the realm of laid back. The melody suffers. The lyric is indeed telling a nice compelling story, but the guitar meanders. As it proceeds it seems to open a little like a morning flower – but it still suggests it’s not going to get any faster, exciting or add any confection. The echo-laden guitar has a note here and there and the faraway drum effect, while good, is never used as dramatically as Simon and Garfunkel (“The Boxer”). I don’t think the tune is bad at all, I just think it needs to be better arranged, reworked and produced. Lots of potential but the song is a bit of a yawn as is. It needs to be rethought, played live more, find itself – because it has value but just doesn’t hold attention the way it should — yet.
Another slow one in “If You Ask Me To,” makes this a cool tune with its singalong by others as if it were recorded in a saloon. This needs the arrangement changed to be heavier on the piano as a lead instrument (again, the producer talking). Drums are subtle and well-tuned for such a song. A female vocal needs to be more pronounced when singing with Besides Daniel. This is one of the best tracks on the album. It at least has an interesting arrangement and showcase. With all the melancholy in it, it’s the drummer who injects the little drive that is necessary to keep the song afloat. The lyrics are clear and there is nothing limp about this one. Maybe when they sing it, they should get louder with each verse. There needs to be a little production to set it aside from the previous tunes.
“Ruthless Love,” is a fine melody but there are too many songs that are stuck in one gear. Besides Daniel has good songs but not enough variety in the tonality of his voice. It veers at times into almost a monotone when he should be infusing the words. If he can’t do it due to a limited vocal range, then he should give it to the backup singers – the way Leonard Cohen did. Having a limited vocal range is no excuse for not being able to project some intonation. This is a good song, but it drags in spots – step it up a beat. Be a little more dramatic in the later verses because the lyrics sound like they should be sung with more authority.
Again, if the voice can’t carry the notes add a secondary vocalist to add lift. Don’t allow the audience to lose interest – the piano is brilliant on this song and pounds away at a nice clip with an old-fashioned melody. Lines like “everything you touch is on fire…” – needs to be heard. Needs more strength. “…the pale horse and his threat,” – give it some stabs with a vocal knife. Too many good near-poetic words in this lyric and they just float like cream on top of whole milk on a winter’s day. The song needs flavor – mix the cream into the milk. Let it work for you. Most singer-songwriters would kill for such a good song – but the vocal is just not supporting the wealth and weight of the lyrics. Not sufficiently at least.
Areas, where the falsetto comes in, should be replaced completely with a sax, or trumpet for effect and added strength. Let the instruments work for you and the song. Falsetto is just what the word suggests – it’s false. A false voice. Why use such a musical device when there are instruments that can infuse the song with some power? For my ears this song is excellent – but not in this performance. It can still be sung by Besides Daniel, but it needs to be re-energized. Keep the calliope piano – that’s a good sound. Let the lyric blossom.
There haven’t been many foot-stomping songs in this collection but Besides Daniel does have credible melodies and lyrics.
“Roommates,” is a simple, reflective song and it’s performed well. Besides Daniel uses a good tone with this vocal. He accentuates words better in this song. Knows which lyrics are more important than others. This is a well-written lyric and it has all the right support surrounding it. This is in the tradition of the late English singer Nick Drake (“Northern Sky”). Simple sometimes is more.
Another acoustic driven track – a reprise — is a good sign because Besides Daniel has some excellent material when he enjoins it all with the acoustic guitar. This is an all-acoustic version of the earlier song “Wonderfully Made,” and though it’s spare it has some nice feeling to it. A little echoey in the recording but that’s the charm.
Many younger reviewers/writers will compare Besides Daniel to some more contemporary artists (Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, Wilder Adkins, Tyler Lyle, Iron and Wine, Milk Carton Kids, Death Cab for Cutie) — but because I have white hair now (yes, I still have hair) and I’m familiar with the artists who preceded all these artists by decades. I prefer to go back in time and really exemplify where the influences took root. Because many of those original – singer/songwriters, troubadours, blues, folk, country, roots artists had few contemporaries to listen to and learn from. They virtually took music from many areas and condensed it, refined it, reinvented it into what they became famous for and their musical flavors became the ones to be measured by.
Pete Seeger was influenced by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan was influenced by Woody Guthrie, but Bob Dylan was also influenced by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and literature. And before that, few were. Folk music in the early 60’s wasn’t Guthrie, it was the Kingston Trio, the New Christy Minstrels, and Peter, Paul & Mary. Besides Daniel has a nice easy going sound to his repertoire but still needs to find his voice. The way those artists found theirs.
I say that because almost every song is sung in the same key, almost the same tempo. He still needs to discover where the inflections go, where the power is needed, where the darker colors need to be brushed. He’ll find it – he is a worthy artist. That much can be heard.
I did not have a hard copy of the CD so I can’t comment on the packaging or art. I had no information on who produced the album or who the musicians were in the studio. They all performed admirably.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review/commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as a reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / November 2018