Dirty Linen - p.47
"Schmidt works his magic as effortlessly as breathing. His songs are so organic and fluent that they seem always to have existed..."
Personnel: Danny Schmidt (vocals, guitar); Mark Hallman (vocals, slide guitar, mandolin, piano, organ, drums, percussion); Joia Wood, Carrie Elkin (vocals); Elana James, Eleanor Whitmore (violin); Brian Standefer (cello); George Carver, George Carver/ (harmonica); Oliver Steck (accordion); Kevin Flatt (trumpet); Mark Williams (bass instrument); Damien Llanes (drums); Carrie Elkin (tambourine).
Audio Mixer: Mark Hallman.
Photographers: Esther Golton; Carrie Elkin.
Danny Schmidt alludes to his profession in the opening and closing parts of his Red House Records label debut, Instead the Forest Rose to Sing, beginning with "Better Off Broke," which sounds like it might have been written around one of the campfires at the Kerrville Folk Festival where he won the New Folk Award in 2007. "Swing Me Down," which follows, is a travelog that mentions lots of state names, as if the songwriter were ticking them off as he journeyed through. The album's final song, "The Night's Just Beginning to Shine," is a closing time theme, appropriate for a final encore in a club, to be followed only by the reminder, "Be sure to tip your waitress." In this sense, the album comes off as a deliberately constructed set, and that impression is reinforced by Schmidt's reliance on a variety of familiar folk styles, from the folk-blues of "Better Off Broke" to the jazz-blues of "Two Timing Bank Robber's Lament" (think "St. James Infirmary") and the folk-rock of "Serpentine Cycle of Money." Certainly, this is a concept album, and the concept is the timely one (in the winter after the economic meltdown of 2008) of money. Predictably, Schmidt doesn't think much of wealth, if a title like "Better Off Broke" didn't signal that right off the bat. He complains that workingmen are robbed of their dignity after their working life is over ("Grampa Built Bridges"); decries the decline of the auto industry ("Southland Street"); botches a big heist ( "Two Timing Bank Robber's Lament"); and isn't even happy when he finds a billion dollars under a rock ("The Serpentine Cycle of Money"). Better off broke, indeed. All of this is expressed in his alternately wheezy and clear tenor, as he manages to get his tongue around what are sometimes big mouthfuls of words. Schmidt is wordy and witty, and he enjoys showing off his verbal facility, sometimes for its own sake, in these songs. But folk music tends to be a lyricist's genre, and there's plenty of excellent music to support the verbosity. ~ William Ruhlmann