Daniel Romano – Finally Free – New West Records NW5255 – Released 2018
I’m going to be totally honest here, and brutally frank. I don’t know what the fuck this Lp is ‘really‘ about. That fact, in combination with my assertion that it is a work of beauty and genius has got me seriously fucked up and confused, I don’t get that way often. I like it though when I do. I like it when I can’t tuck something into a pigeonhole, when it tells me to get my listening ears on properly. I like it when it is music so obviously and adventurously wonderful. But when records are just pretentiously impenetrable, I lean quickly to placing them into the category ‘shite’ to be ignored, and money recently wasted.
I don’t normally have a hard time working out what an artist is trying to do, writing about, saying, who they sound like or where their influences lay, but that’s not the case with Finally Free. Daniel might feel finally freed by this Lp as if it were some cathartic exercise in musical self assertion, but it’s got me quite possibly ‘finally stumped’ in working out what’s going on with it.
But that’s a GOOD thing. I’m bored with knowing what the hell I’m hearing. In my dotage I need something I’ve not ever heard the like of before too keep my interest. To make me want to review it for instance, in a blog.
Just who the hell is Daniel Romano?
I first ‘discovered’ my version of Daniel Romano, isolated and without musical guidance, while trawling YouTube for Alt Country songs, and found a wonderful song, that appears with an alternative title, feel and mix on his Lp. ‘If I’ve Only One Time Askin” but is on YouTube called ‘More Love From A Stranger’. I was immediately struck by his songwriting, playful attitude to wearing revival Nudie style suits with a big hat, and his obvious and only slightly submerged obsession with Hank Williams Jnr. The song was strong. Sounded like a man headed for romantic oblivion at the bottom of a bottle, and had me hooked. Shortly thereafter I bought the frankly disappointing cd album ‘Come Cry With Me’ on import. The songs were nowhere near as strong as his YouTube appearance and I put any further exploration of his music aside for a while.
Then recently while at a record store in Brighton England I took a punt on what is a recent but not latest release by him, Finally Free, the record I’m here to try and review. I bought it partly because Romano’s stuff just doesn’t appear in the UK without a pricey import tariff generally. It’s hard to find, and expensive when you do. The point I’m making is that my experience of his music was not explained or taught by anyone, he’s a rare thing for me a discovery I made. His music is a place I found, not one I was shown to, or recommended. I don’t know his story, I’m in a dark room and it’s as if he keeps his history close to his chest, there isn’t a lot out there about who is, or has been. I think he likes it that way, I think he likes to play with his perceived image. Do you Daniel? Is that what it’s about for you?
I took Finally Free home, listened, loved it, listened again, loved it more, couldn’t get the lyrics at all, found them impenetrable. Were they pretentious as fuck, or heartfelt? Then listened to the Lp over two months lots of times, loving it. But not getting any closer to the centre of it.
I had questions to answer.
The artwork by Daniel on the Lp sleeve and on the reverse of the frankly ugly poster included was it naïve, or just shitty? Was the assertion on the outer sleeve notes that the Lp was mastered on the stolen land of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinabek and Huron-Wendat, but produced and mixed on the stolen land of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabek just so much pretentious waffle or meant from the heart?
I remain confused and as yet unconvinced of just what he’s trying to do. That’s a good thing, I feel wrong-footed, confused, but loving the sound, the sound, the music, the music which carries all doubt straight through to the second side’s run out groove.
Don’t fuck me around Dan!
Is he just fucking with us, one minute he’s a finger picking singer songwriter (I’m here citing early YouTube videos of his performances), then he’s rhinestone cowboy, a hard drinking’ country star, then he’s alt something, love poet, romantic bard and fine artist who states that the Lp is ‘A Collection Of Poems In The Language Of Love’, and whom refers on the rear of the sleeve to his penmanship on it as ‘Notes From The Author’. Is he playing with us again, this time trying to impart on himself and perhaps the Lp project the perception of a literary milieu.
The cover, an area previously explored as a thing of artistic potential by Daniel Romano is left filled by ugliness, an ugly 3d photo, and two of the nastiest colours you could pick for anything, even a death warrant, and yet the innards, the guts of the Lp, the music, the production, arrangement, mix of musical happenstance and composition are deftly combined to produce a thing of utter transcendence. Some of the chord progressions are just wondrous, and not one song feels copied, hackneyed or unoriginal.
To all intents it looks like an Lp where the artist is trying way too hard to be noticed, way too hard to impress, to be original, not to quote and re-quote other musical styles and other artists, and yet he manages to do exactly that, to be beautifully original and to prevent the listener being able to catalogue his sound and style. I have my own opinions of course of where some of the sounds hail from, you will have your own when you listen to it (and I hope you do). I can hear strong hints of The Incredible String Band then The Beach Boys, The Byrds (back in 8 Mile High days), Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan, Earth Opera, The Velvet Underground, Rocky Horror style Rock Opera shenanigans, Nick Drake, and the sonic 60s excesses of an LSD fuelled musical decade. Like all great music it sounds like you’ve heard it before, but you know you haven’t.
Unlike those Lps of old that used to say in little text long the top edge of the sleeve – ‘File Under ‘Rock N’ Roll’, you won’t get any such advice from Mr. Romano. It’s going to have to go in a section all of it’s own. ‘Finally Free from category’.
© Murphy Feb 2019 ⤄