Album Review: If I've Only One Time Askin' by Daniel Romano
Exceptionally Good, Based on 6 Critics
PopMatters - 90 Based on rating 9/10
For the last several decades now, some of the best country music seems to have come from nearly everywhere but Nashville. Whether in 1990s Chicago with the insurgent country spearheaded by the folks at Bloodshot Records, the south inhabited by the Drive-By Truckers and their sphere of influence, a host of vibrant Texan scenes or Dwight Yoakam’s modern-day take on the Bakersfield sound, more artists outside of NashVegas’ more pop-oriented sheen seem content to explore the dusty back roads of heartache originally trod by Hank, Willie, Waylon, Merle and a host of others. Add to these wildly disparate geographic points of origin Canada.
Alt-country maverick Daniel Romano's fourth full-length is an Americana masterpiece. Titled If I've Only One Time Askin', the new LP is catchier and more accessible than his preceding 2013 effort, Come Cry With Me, which admirably — but too frequently — adhered to older honky-tonk conventions. The strongest numbers on If I've Only, by contrast, will make even the most devoted of country haters tap their toes.
If you wanted to make a case for Daniel Romano as Canada's answer to Robbie Fulks, you wouldn't have a whole lot of trouble making it stick. Romano isn't nearly as snarky as Fulks, but one can chalk that up to the traditional courtesy of the Canadian people, and he has a faint but similar thread of dark humor running through his work. And like Fulks, Romano has an impressive talent for writing songs that evoke the classic era of countrypolitan weepers, and his dry but evocative vocals are not only nearly as good as Robbie's, their voices even bear a noticeable similarity.
At the close of “Old Fires Die”, a mournful account of the dissolution of a relationship, Daniel Romano concludes that he’d “get more happiness from a bottle/and more love from a stranger”. A keening pedal steel guitar and lilting strings are the only appropriate accompaniments to such a summation; which is to say that If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ is a Country album in the most traditional sense of the word. Hints of the greats - Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Townes van Zandt et al - are audible throughout.
Daniel Romano’s 2013 release, “Come Cry With Me,” was a promising collection of retro-leaning country music. His new record, a magnificent, subtle reshaping of classic honky-tonk sounds and sentiment, fulfills that promise and then some. From the thrilling sweep of countrypolitan strings that introduce leadoff track “I’m Gonna Teach You,” the music is awash in old-school touches.
Some people get so tangled up in Daniel Romano's stylish western attire they miss hearing some of the best country music being made these days. He's grounded yet ambitious, clearly in tune with the genre's best signifiers and songwriters. Bred on the obstinate perseverance and first-thought-best-thought of punk, Romano tends to play all of the instruments on his records, which he makes in his home studio in Welland, Ontario.