Sleep Beneath the Willow Daniel Romano (You've Changed Records)
For a while now, I've thought that Daniel Romano, the little-known wonder-boy from Welland, Ont., could do no wrong. And now he goes and raises his game.
Sleep Beneath the Willow, his newest, gobsmacks with its dreamy visions of sixties country radio. This is twangy gold - pleasing to the ear, easy on the mind, melodically smooth and lyrically and sonically touching to the heart. Galveston, Tex., and Bakersfield, Calif., fight to give Romano the keys to their cities; silly big-hat country music elsewhere casts its eyes downward in a shameful and shifty way, rightfully so.
In the liner notes, Romano points out that the album was recorded "stereophonically." I bet; the sound is wide and silky. Perhaps the reference concerned 2007's Curve of the Earth (the excellent, flannel-wearing acoustic album by Romano's indie-rock outfit Attack in Black) or 2009's Daniel, Fred & Julie (a winningly rustic folk-trio album).
Those two albums were notable for their impromptu, lo-fi charm. Sleep Beneath the Willow, on the other hand, is audibly richer, though the stories are usually downbeat. "I got trampled by my woman," Romano offers on the lowly but essentially sweet croon of Time Forgot (To Change My Heart), "I been cheated and double-crossed." And still the song's gently stalking protagonist, despite a "coup in the altar," isn't vengeful.
But Hard on You (which imagines Toronto's Merle Haggard revivalist Doug Paisley fronting the psychedelic roots-rocking Sadies - a good idea, by the way), is blunt in its romantic disappointment and its subsequent tough-love prescription.
Both those songs feature spur-heeled angels on backing vocals, by Misha Bower, Tamara Lindeman and Lisa Bozikovic. As does There Are Lines in My Face, which continues the vibe of Glen Campbell, sobbing and gobbling soothing peyote products.
Last track Nothing is an affecting, graceful signoff, apparently recorded solo in front of a live audience. It's a haunting sort of singer-songwriter ballad, with an attention-grabbing chorus. You hear clapping as the song fades. I should hope so.
Daniel Romano and band play Toronto's Dakota Tavern, April 5; Waterloo, Ont., April 6; St. Catharines, Ont., April 7; Ottawa, April 8; Kingston, April 9; Hamilton, April 10.