Years ago, I remember discussing the evolution of Blake Schwarzenbach as a songwriter. Long story short, trying to compare a song from his early work in Jawbreaker to his final songs as front man for Jets to Brazil is impossible. But when taken chronologically, the flow of his work is fluid and Perfecting Loneliness is a fitting conclusion.
The same can be said about the pride of Welland, Daniel Romano. If you listened to the early records from AiB and jumped ahead to the sad sack, Glen Campbell influenced country tunes he now sings, you’d be lost. Long time fans however, would know the transition has been completely natural. Sleep Beneath the Willow truly feels like the record Dan’s been working towards since he became a musician.
This isn’t just a collection of country songs played because that’s what’s hot these days. These aren’t rough songs, thrown together after some whiskey. No. These are polished songs, arranged, performed and mastered with a sense of pride that’s crucial to Romano’s creativity. On Working for the Music Man, Romano was torn by his frustration at the music business and the desire to keep putting out songs of which he was proud. SBW – built from tasteful instrumentation, pure emotions and spot-on harmonies courtesy of Misha Bower,Tamara Lindeman and Lisa Bozikovic -is timeless. It’s the type of record that may finally severe the ties with the AiB fans pining for a return to sound, but will ultimately solidify his spot not only as a songwriter but as a musician and producer as well.
SBW is an homage to the greats that put so much effort into writing and performing, and when you hear Romano’s live take on “Nothing” end the LP, you know he’s put every ounce of blood, sweat and tears into not only these recordings, but the songs in general. Every note – whether it’s gentle strums of an acoustic, fiddle, or even honky tonk electric work – understands it’s purpose and never oversteps its boundaries or overstays its welcome. Every word feels as important as if Romano exhaled it on his dying breath. Sleep Beneath the Willow is like a time machine; one that puts Romano on stage at the Grand Ole Opry and his sincere devotion to his craft earns not only the applause that ultimately ends the record, but the respect of the people paying to hear his songs. I think that is enough validation for any man.