Danny Schmidt 'Owls' - Live Once

Although he has released some seven previous solo albums, this is my first encounter with Danny Schmidt and if Owls is anything to go by that is my loss. It is a song that the writer says explores the myriad of relationships but more in a more non-direct  existential way. His site has commentary for each song for those who wish to explore further. For now let’s consider the music on offer here.  The album was produced by David Goodrich, who, with Schmidt has given these songs both depth and worth. Recorded in Texas, it employs some skillfull players who included Goodrich himself on guitars and piano as well Lloyd Maines on pedal steel and trio of harmony vocalists, among them Carrie Elkin, with whom Schmidt has previously recorded an album. 

As is often the case with an artist with a proven track record, the album was funded via Kickstarter and all can feel that their money was well spent. The immediate standout is Faith Will Always Rise, a song that tries to have an understanding of something powerful but intangible. It is the sort of song that could find a wide audience if it was placed before them. Girl with Lantern Eyes opens the album in a understated way with a beautiful interplay between the male and female vocal on a song that considers the one who opens to reach out but inevitably reaches inwards instead. There is a subtly to the music with it losing any of its inherent grit and gleam. Recorded, for the most part, live in the studio it has the energy that that process allows. That is then tempered with a sensitivity and lightness of touch that highlights the lyrical and studied nature of Schmidt’s writing. These are songs that more between indie folk and a more robust Americana. 

In the end it comes down to the sound that emerges from the speakers and this is one that encompasses the whole room and draws you into its centre. It reveals a more with each play and familiarity makes it an album to which you can return often. Danny Schmidt is a singer/songwriter who should be making inroads into the consciousness that embraced the likes of Josh Ritter. This is music that has been made for the man himself and those who his music has touched, and if it remains well under the radar it is nonetheless a success on its own terms regardless of sales. It is the full package and hopefully the album that could take Schmidt up to another level. There is not a weak track here. Check it out - that would be a wise decision.

Carrie Elkin "Call It My Garden" Red House Records

This album was recorded at fellow singer/songwriter Sam Baker's home and sounds like all involved had a good time. It was produced by Colin Brooks of the Band Of Heathens and Danny Schmidt this album has a very strong vocal presence led by Elkin but bolstered by Baker and Raina Rose and Robby Hecht among others on harmonies. A full band led by Brooks bring light and shade and a subtle complexity to her songs all originals bar the single cover which is Dar Williams' Iowa. The overall feel is one of intimacy even with the more uptempo songs like the opening Jesse Likes Birds which quotes the "Mamma's going to buy you a mocking bird" line. Many of the songs touch on the renewal and growth that the title suggest. And as with any garden there are a mix of the pretty blooms and the occasional thorn. Call It My Garden though is one of those albums that need to be taken in context each song planted carefully against its neighbour to be seen as an overall picture of a this person and her thoughts. To listen to this album is to sit in a warm garden surrounded by scents and colour. Elkin pays tribute to her host and is joined by Sam Baker on the delicate Dear Sam. The album closes with The Edge Of The World a song recorded in one take that teeters on the brink but adds a layer of spontaneity that sums the attitude and affection. Elkin's folk music offers much to admire and allows entry into her not-so-secret garden of earthly delights.