Review: Dan Mangan, Oh Fortune
Sitting in Vancouver it’s hard to explain the popularity of Dan Mangan. Most artists have a hometown advantage–that core group of fans who’ve been with them since the very beginning and makes for larger crowds than at travelling gigs. With Mangan’s last album Nice, Nice, Very Nice the hometown fans demonstrated their loyalty with two sold out shows at the Vogue Theatre to cap off an international tour that saw Mangan filling smaller, but still sizable, venues across Canada, the United States and Europe. To put that in perspective Neko Case played a single night and took three weeks to sell it out: Mangan took eight days by my recollection. Two shows.
Not impressive enough? On this tour Mangan is playing Toronto’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre. That last show I wanted to see in that venue was a Jeff Tweedy solo show. Tweedy’s over ten albums deep into a legendary career: Mangan’s on his third.
To say it was a very good year for one of the nicest guys in the Vancouver music scene is an understatement.
Oh Fortune (to be released on September 27th) is Mangan’s follows on the runaway success of it’s predecessor with a whole heap of expectations from those roughly 3,000 fans from those Vogue Theatre shows. Material from Oh Fortune was in development at the time and some of it was played live–most notably a barn burning show opening performance of Post-War Blues–so some of this material will be familiar, but there’s much new here and a great deal that’s different than the previous album.
The album opens nicely with the amply titled About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All, a quiet waltz that counts the listener into the album and picks up nicely where Set the Sails closed the last record. The waltz with percussion sound provides a clue (and a welcome introduction) to an album that’s much more richly produced than its predecessor, and includes the sounds of orchestral accompaniment that Mangan’s been experimenting with over the last year and a bit. Mangan’s played various gigs where the band has been supplemented (and at times replaced by) a string and brass section, adding new layers to songs from the album.
That symphonic sound may pose the biggest challenge to the album for fans who may be expecting something more…straightforward. It does make the album different to listen to, most obviously when the quiet and string heavy How Darwinian leads into Post-War Blues, which brings the guitars and drums to the forefront again. Followed up with the largely solo guitar track If I Am Dead it can make for a jarring first listen and of the first three tracks.
These stylistic jumps mean it may take a few listens to build the familiarity that seemed so instant on the last album, and that familiarity makes the album easier on the ear over time. Tracks like Daffodil and the titular Oh Fortune (with a killer drumbeat as a bridge) should appeal to Mangan’s fans immediately while others may not reveal themselves so easily. The rich lyricism hasn’t gone away as Mangan waxes poetically on familiar themes of loss, sadness, ambivalence, youth and aging. Mangan is well read and well written and while others (most notably Canadian music critic Alan Cross) have complained of his lyrics being overly-simplistic I’ve got no qualms on that front. The album material is solid and there’s enough that’s good here to keep old fans happy and win new ones along the way. Favourites are already emerging with Rows of Houses, Post-War Blues and Oh Fortune leading the way (the latter is the lead off single, and a free download can be found on Mangan’s web site if you’re willing to sign over your email address.)
Oh Fortune reinforces Mangan’s reputation as Vancouver’s leading singer-songwriter of the moment and shows the evolution of an artist whose best material–I’m convinced, at least–hasn’t been written yet. It has the feeling of a gentle step forward with occasional flashes of a brasher nature and that, for a third album, is probably more than could be expected of most artists. Give this one a few listens and it’ll earn a place in your regular rotation.
Oh Fortune is available on the Arts & Crafts label on September 27th across North America. Mangan will be touring Canada and the United States through the fall.