No one makes a joyful noise like Daniel Smith. The
tree-costumed ringleader of the Christian-themed, folk-tinged, Danielson
project sings in a scratchy, trebly voice that is barely able to contain his
excitement. Happy cacophonies of guitar strumming, banjo rattling, pot-banging
and glockenspiel tinkling bash and clatter in his wake. Everything is tinted in
bright primary school tones, emotions unfiltered, arms up, mouths stretched
wide. He and Wovenhand’s David Eugene
Edwards are friends, but their artistic interpretation of evangelical
Christianity could not be more different. Edwards is trapped in a nightmarish
vision of Revelations-style judgment. Smith is a preschooler singing “Jesus
loves you” at the top of his lungs.
The Best of Gloucester County is Smith’s eighth
album, coming five years after Ships (with a best-of Trying Hartz in the
interim). Once enough of a family project to merit the surname Danielson
Famile, Smith’s group has lately shed some close relatives (brothers Andrew and
David are gone) and picked up a full complement of non-kin. His current band
includes Patrick Berkery from the Bigger Lovers on drums, Evan Mazunik on
keyboards, Joshua Stamper playing bass and arranging brass, Andrew Wilson on
electric guitar and Sufjan Stevens on banjo. Smith’s wife Elin and his sisters
Megan and Rachel remain on board, most notably in the male-female dialogues of
With the new line-up, Danielson’s sound has shifted slightly.
It is still staccato and high-pitched, the songs perched uncertainly on rickety
structures of stop-start percussion. The melodies, which are often memorable,
are chopped and stretched and chirped in uncomfortably high registers. And yet
with a full band, the sound has thickened, intensified and grown, if anything,
more grounded. “Grow Up,” the most giddily infectious of these tunes, places
big solid guitar chords in the foreground, childlike reveries of bells in the
background. The two guitars – acoustic and electric – carom off one another in
ecstatic “But I Don’t Want to Sing About Guitars.” Hard strums on the acoustic
rivet the sound onto a relentless rhythm, while little accents and flourishes
from the electric add color and texture.
Danielson finds revelation in the ordinary. His opener “This
Day is a Loaf” is a hard waltz through the mysteries of everyday life. It is
grounded hard in clipped banjo picking and cymbal-clashing drums, and yet the
melody floats free, ethereal above the whirl. Later with “Hovering Above that
Hill,” he escapes time signatures altogether in a mesh of strums and sounds and
overtones that taps into the ineffable.
Yet for the most part, the mystery is hidden inside the
plain and straightforward. Danielson sings knotty melodies with a child’s
unconflicted joy. Not a bad trick when you think about it.
Up,” “Lil Norge” “But I Don’t Want to Sing about Guitars” JENNIFER KELLY