Ever since I first heard Daniel Romano’s debut solo album Working For the Music Man in 2010—and then his rather extraordinary follow-up Sleep Beneath the Willow in 2011—I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that he’s my favorite singer-songwriter working today. And I’m not alone. One of the first things that you find when you preach this particular gospel to people is that, if they know his stuff, they invariably respond with smiling, high-fiving agreement.
In tracing the evolution of former Attack in Black singer Daniel Romano as a classic country songwriter, one can hear the steady formation of a distinct sonic landscape pulsing hard and true through the veins of that heart wrenching, '70's-era honky tonk sound. Building from his solo debut, Workin' for the Music Man (2010), to Sleep Beneath the Willow (2011), this landscape has become so vivid, so exquisitely entrenched in bygone lyricism and traditional arrangements that with a title like Come Cry with Me, listeners know exactly where Romano is taking them. For country music fans, it's a majestic place.
Daniel Romano's third solo album is steeped in the storytelling traditions of old-school country musicians like Hank Snow and Stompin' Tom, featuring beautifully arranged travelling songs about lost mothers, lost lovers and lost hope. Two Pillow Sleeper - one is for him and the other for his former love - typifies his talent for finding unique ways to express his sorrow. Twangy pedal steel, soft acoustic strumming, shuffling drums, fiddle, female backups (by Misha Bower, Tamara Lindeman and Julie Doiron) and Romano's own remarkable voice - the lowest end of his register will surprise you every time - build each impeccably executed tune into something classic-sounding and familiar.
Country music is a genre, of course, but it’s also a geographical location: we expect at least some degree of physical southern roots or innate twang birthright from its ardent preachers, particularly those brave enough to wear a Nudie-inspired suit on stage and sing downright traditional songs in the vein of 40’s Nashville or 50’s Bakersfield: tales of women come and gone – mostly gone, actually – told with a wistful eye through a mouth that’s maybe kissed more bottles of whiskey than babies. Daniel Romano, hailing not from the south but the great white north – Ontario, to be exact – may not have been raised in the Tennessee countryside or Texas plains, but his knack for broken-hearted trad-county songs that pay tribute to Gram Parsons and Hank Williams is fairly uncanny for someone surrounded more by ice hockey than honky-tonks. Coming from a thin, 27-year old Canadian whose only connection to the genre is from his grandparents (big country radio fans), and who used to play in an indie punk-band, this could all come off as a little eye-roll-inducing if it weren’t so well executed.