Schmidt gambles everything on lyrical intensity and simple presentation, and succeeds.
Colin Irwin 2011
From Roky Erickson and Joe Ely to Shawn Colvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Austin, Texas has a proud, rich and rare tradition of outstanding singer-songwriters. Danny Schmidt doesn’t, perhaps, have the rugged unpredictability or spirit of individuality marking those artists, but with a strikingly intimate and unusually stripped-down approach, he is nevertheless a worthy inheritor of that lineage.
Don’t expect this album to hit you between the eyes with all guns blazing: this is a contemplative, eyes shut, late-night glass of wine kind of record, Schmidt’s marshmallow voice luxuriating in a complex labyrinth of romantic imagery and light, acoustic guitar. With lyrics of rigorous self-examination like Houses Sing and Know Thy Place, it’s easy to see why he’s also a published poet. His style is much lighter and his voice is very different, but there are echoes of Leonard Cohen in several of his songs, notably Almost Round the World, a spiky commentary on the perils of misinterpretation by internet forums.
The mood of stark melancholia doesn’t lift even when he tackles a cover – Bob Dylan’s Buckets of Rain – but subtle shade and texture is provided by guitarist Will Sexton, pianist Keith Gary and singers Carrie Elkin and Raina Rose. And when Ray Bonneville starts blowing lively harmonica on Ragtime Ragtime Blues you almost spill the wine as he veers towards knees-up territory.
The track that really marks Schmidt’s arrival as an honourable successor to the folk troubadours of old, however, is the charged Guilty by Association Blues, full of damning political observation and killer couplets: "If I had a parrot he’d probably land in jail / For saying what I’m thinking and showing too much tail…"
Yes, it’s broodingly one-paced with a certain shoe-gazing aura, but there’s an appealing quirkiness too and you don’t often hear naked ruminations of this sort of depth and quality in the modern era. On this, his second album for Red House Records, Schmidt gambles everything on the strength of lyrical intensity and simple presentation to carry the day. In a world of instant gratification and short attention spans it’s a brave thing to do, but mostly he succeeds.