reviewed by Adria Young
Adria: You nail the George Jones in ‘I Won’t Let It…’ I think it’s just an absolutely stunning video. What’s your favourite Jones album, if you had to pick?
Daniel: I love all of it. I’m only missing 3 records of his 250. But I really like the performances on his 1999 record, by then he’s got a beautifully aged voice that sounds slightly healed. He never ceases to amaze me. He’s the fucking best singer in the world.
Daniel Romano’s classic country album, Come Cry With Me (Normaltown Records) has received tons of praise and lots of appreciation since its release last month.
10 tracks on Come Cry With Me recall early rock ‘n roll, country and western music, and influential recording-industry histories that mostly exist in American memories and the Ryman Auditorium. The Nashville of this album isn’t really alive anymore. It’s bygone; Come Cry With Me is an original homage and a genuine replica and way more than that.
Last summer, I had the best luck and talked to Daniel for The Coast. We talked about all kinds of things, including Randy Travis and Dwight Yokum (who dealt with “the sonic misfortunes of their time”). He told me about Come Cry with Me, and we chatted about classic country. I was so excited to talk to someone about country, especially (especially) Daniel Romano. Like most music people, I write about music because I love it.
And I love it because my family does. My cool Ma exposed me to the early ‘90s scene (The Pixies, Weezer, Sloan) way before any of my peers even heard of indie rock, but really I thank my grandmother for the years of exposure to country and western. She’s cried so many times to “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” to Hank, Willie, Merle. In 2008, we saw George Jones together. She’s sobbed to Charley Pride. This Christmas, my mother surprised her with Willie’s latest book (Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die) and she almost cried at that, too. Nanny played country and western on a 1962 Gibson acoustic before she smashed it over my grandfather’s head. She gave me her 1970s Pan (a Japanese rip-off that she bought afterwards), and I still play it, but I wish I never knew about the Gibson. The point is: I know a fair bit about country and western. I mean, I still call it country and western. And I think that’s because my Nanny and I grew up in a small community in Lunenburg County, preserved miles and miles from Tennessee.
Like rural Ontario (where Romano is from), Lunenburg County is an old-fashioned country outpost with all the trappings of the 1950s. I’m talking 4-H clubs, hall dances, pick-up trucks; maybe you can imagine what it’s like. The provincial ideologies embedded in generations still shine like applique rhinestones. Lately, folk singers flock to it. Well, wouldn’t you know? One of the biggest country stars was from Liverpool, Nova Scotia.
Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Music Hall of Fame, with over 85 singles on the Billboard, Hank Snow is the honky-tonkin’ pride of the eastern southwest.
So the first thing I told Daniel about was my connection to that history. The Hank Snow Museum has an annual Hank Snow tribute every summer. It’s a pretty big deal: RVs for acres and grandmothers for days. And if you ever get the chance to see Daniel Romano live, do it. He’s touring now. Not only does he have a custom glitz strap and custom glitz inlays, like the best of ’em, he also wears some of the finest suits I’ve seen in modern show biz. Need a suit? Check out Wendy’s beautiful, beautiful work at Golden West Clothing.
Anyway, a misconception about country and western is the heart-broken my bucket’s got a hole in it kind of sadness. Lots of reviewers are saying the album will make you cry into your whiskey, just like good old country should. It’s called Come Cry With Me, after all.
On the phone, I said to Daniel, “People associate country music with pain, sadness, melancholy.” And he replied, “Melancholy? I don’t think it’s the main thing because I have a pretty great life.” He loves his life, in fact. There’s way more to country than tears, and anyway, he said, “There’s pain in everything. The whole point is that it’s something everyone can relate to.” The heartbreak is a trope, yes, but it’s not the purpose.
“There are unlimited possibilities within three chords. You could write a million songs and none of them will sound the same and yet all of them will. All country songs are pretty much in the same key, but they’re all so different because it’s really about the song.”
Of course, the biggest hit-makers of classic country lived in a time when talent was more commercially successful than image; the industry placed a higher value on integrity.
“Country in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s had the best song writing and the best singers because it was the only genre where it didn’t matter if you were horribly ugly, it just mattered that you had a great voice. Delivery and range is everything, and it just seems like such a plain and obvious way of making a song.” Even still, Waylon Jennings was incredibly hot in ’67.
But what was valued was the sound, the narrative arc of storytelling, and how the song made you feel. And while Nashville glitz was all part of the aesthetic, country and western was enjoyed for the quality of songwriting, the expression of emotion, and the moods it evoked. The pedal steels, the vocal tones, the showmanship. My god, the showmanship.
The point I’m trying to express here is that Daniel Romano makes music like some of the greatest music makers of all time. There’s a formula to country and western songs, for sure, and the tracks on Come Cry With Me have subtle ancestries and are part of a genre.
But instead of saying that Daniel Romano is ‘bringing something back’ (because classic country is still fairly popular; because my grandmother, and grandmothers all over North America, are still very much alive and well; because there are classic country glimmers on his earlier albums; because “Hard on You” is a sign this was coming), I’d rather say that Daniel Romano is playing music that he really loves (music with an incredible history of talent), and he’s playing it exceptionally well. Like, the best. And I mean, like the best.
If it’s a pet project, it’s a masterpiece. But he’s serious about it, and that’s the most charming part. “It’s more country than anything I’ve done yet, front to back that’s the way I wanted it,” he said. It’s the real deal. If Come Cry With Me is the only country and western record you ever buy, at least it’ll be true. Contemporary pop-country is crap, we all know that. Classic country is the best aural literature you can spend your time reading.
Come Cry With Me is one of the gospels.
Top Tracks: “He Lets Her Memory Go (Wild),” “Middle Child”
Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*