Album Review: Daniel Romano, ‘If I’ve Only One Time Askin”
There's a moment on Canadian singer-songwriter Daniel Romano's new album where, as one song segues into another, a meandering string section brushes shoulders with a twanging guitar that sounds like it's warming up before its entrance. If I've Only One Time Askin', in fact, starts with a high-pitched, wailing string figure that immediately hearkens back to the "countrypolitan" style of the '60s and '70s, where country artists were backed by lush orchestral arrangements. Right away, this album comes off like a country performance taking place at an ultra-posh black-tie gala. But the aforementioned interlude, with its laid-back sense of chaos, hints at the subtle ways Romano puts new wrinkles on vintage formulas. Aside from the elegance of the strings, accordions, horns and piano that are featured prominently throughout, Romano, for example, also likes to use an 808 drum machine.
Described by his label New West as "a young man with an old mind and some nice suits," Romano certainly doesn't lack for a sly sense of subversion. At the same time, his ability to recapture the essence of his musical ancestors cries out from every note on this record.
More importantly, though, Romano manages to capture their gravitas too, even when draped in strings. His delivery rings very close to a young Willie Nelson, whose own dark genius was arguably obscured by production excess. (For proof, see Nelson's revelatory collection of early demos, titled Crazy: The Demo Sessions.) Romano, on the other hand, benefits from the size and scale of his production.
When he sings "I'm going to teach you what happens to someone that hurts like you do" -- from the point of view of a jilted lover singing to him -- no amount of production polish can cover up the indignant sting in his voice.