Reviewed: Daniel Romano – Sleep Beneath the Willow (You’ve Changed, 2011)
Lee Hazlewood or Gram Parsons? A little of each, with a hint of Johnny Cash’s gravitas thrown in for good measure. On the opening number Daniel Romano sings in the deadpan style of Hazlewood, but by track two he embraces the sweet and sad melancholy of Parsons. There are low twanging guitars and period touches to suggest the former’s Phoenix years, but also slow waltzes and country-rockers that evoke the latter. At times the two combine as Romano reaches down from his middle range to darker notes at the bottom end. The ghost of Gram Parsons is inescapable, but it floats through a lot of musical variety. There are gospel harmonies, a Celtic fiddle melody and subtle organ backing for “Louise,” and the broken-hearted “Lost (For as Long as I Live),” is waltzed along by acoustic guitar strums and fiddle. The lonely “I Won’t Let It” suggests a downcast, morning-after ‘50s country ballad, and the dark lyric “there are lines in my face that don’t come from smiling” is matched by the song’s emotionally spent vocal tone. There are countrypolitan touches in the harmony backings of Misha Bower, Tamara Lindeman and Lisa Bozikovic, and several of the songs, particularly the fiddle-led “Paul and Jon,” sound as if they could have been collected by A.P. Carter. This is a fascinating record with roots both familiar and obscure.