Release Date: Feb 22, 2011
Record label: Secretly Canadian
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
“Dare to be a Daniel / Dare to stand alone! / Dare to have a purpose firm! / Dare to make it known.” So goes the refrain to Philip P. Bliss’ hymn “Dare to Be a Daniel”, which refers to the Biblical figure but also aptly describes the work of Daniel Smith, leader of Danielson. With roots as both an art project and family band, Danielson has, over the past two decades, occupied a unique position as an act both brimming with Christian fervor and maintaining credibility in a largely secular rock music scene.
Daniel Smith’s catalogue is stuffed to the stars with big songs by big bands drawn to a point by that high-torn voice trying to fit its way through a needle’s eye, but Gloucester County strips away the filigree, leaving behind a record unafraid to show its carpentry. If you ever doubted the ….
Daniel Smith is the patriarch of the Danielson Famile, a longstanding collaborator and pal to Sufjan Stevens, and the former inhabitant of a nine-foot tall, handmade, fruit-bearing tree suit. He's also something of an enigma, aesthetically-speaking, and it's easy to get distracted by Smith's oddball presentation: There are costumes (besides the tree, he's wiggled into a nurse's uniform, heart-shaped blinders, and a sad, Willy Loman-esque Bible salesman suit), Christian ideology, plenty of high, unhinged bleating, and family-band mystique. His work has never been especially easy to categorize ("This man in a tree suit is making high-concept outsider art!" vs.
Maybe it’s my own fault, but I can’t seem to find a way into this record. This is my first exposure to the Danielson Famile or Danielson Family or just plain Danielson, so I have no idea where Daniel Smith is coming from, other than a part of New Jersey I typically only passed through on my way down the shore from Philly. One thing seems clear – he does things his way.
Daniel Smith doesn’t make albums you can just put on and forget about, and Best of Gloucester County is no exception. It’s both profound and inane, noisy, and not infrequently shrill. If there’s one thing ringleader Smith understands, it’s that the best music demands reaction as much as reflection. So he speaks your language, taking the mundane lexicon of growing up — lawnmowers, neighbors, and pajamas all make appearances here — and subsuming them beneath erratic arrangements and the wild cadences of an evangelist.
Released five years after 2006’s well-received Ships, Daniel Smith's Best of Gloucester County finds the Danielson Famile in a bit of disarray. While sisters Megan and Rachel and Smith's wife Erin all make appearances, the bulk of the “Famile” has fled the nest, but adding four new members (Jens Lekman and longtime Danielson staple Sufjan Stevens appear as well) has done little to tarnish Smith's signature blend of art school indie pop and freak folk Sunday school gospel. While Best of Gloucester County (named for the New Jersey province that serves as the members’ stomping grounds) may feel a bit more settled than previous outings, the complacencies of adulthood, as filtered through Smith's manic croon, are hardly destined for commercial airplay.
Songwriting personalities as confidently idiosyncratic as Daniel Smith’s come around only once in a blue moon, so when they release music it’s always cause to pay attention. Five years after his triumphant Ships album, a lot has changed internally. Though with its roster of guest artists Ships was ostensibly a step away from the family-centric credo most of his creative outings have been guided by, new album Best of Gloucester County (a reference to his home region’s annual local awards) was recorded with completely different, biologically unrelated instrumentalists (excepting the still-unrelated but returning Sufjan Stevens with his assured hands on banjo), bringing back only his sisters for background vocals and promoting his wife to lead vocals on one track.