Ever since I first heard Daniel Romano’s debut solo album Working For the Music Man in 2010—and then his rather extraordinary follow-up Sleep Beneath the Willow in 2011—I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that he’s my favorite singer-songwriter working today. And I’m not alone. One of the first things that you find when you preach this particular gospel to people is that, if they know his stuff, they invariably respond with smiling, high-fiving agreement. For so many longtime fans of traditional country music; people who were raised on post-hippie So-Cal country-rock; and who cut their teeth at shows in the alt.country 1990s; Daniel Romano appears as a kind of culmination, a startling convergence of all of these sounds, these approaches, these mythologies. His lyrics—often as quirky and as wise as the best of the ‘70s-era outlaws—always ring true; his voice—pitched somehow between the high reedy sweetness of a Gram Parsons and the deep earthy baritone of a Johnny Cash or Stompin’ Tom Connors—is disarmingly affecting and deeply distinctive; and his approach to traditional melody and arrangement looks backward and forward simultaneously, pulling from influences while pushing at boundaries. Daniel Romano’s uncanny ability to find freshness in the eminently familiar is what makes it all feel so vibrant, so essential.
Yes, Daniel Romano is the best singer-songwriter in country music today, and I’ll stand on Justin Townes Earle’s coffee table in my Blundstones and scream it at him. But, I think he’d probably interrupt me to tell me he agreed. And, you know, to get off his table, or at least to take the boots off first.
Come Cry With Me is, as the title suggests, a blue and lonesome album. Featuring ten songs about loss, about pain, about the lingering ache of regret, Romano takes us on a trip through the emotional ringer. Between the impossibly tragic opening track—the lament of a “Middle Child” whose mother has given him away while keeping her other two children—and the devastatingly hopeless hopefulness of closer “A New Love (Can Be Found)”, Romano plays the storyteller, the confessor, and the confidant with equal self-possession. On “I’m Not Crying Over You” he flips the script from the old Buck Owens number “Act Naturally”, here playing the heartbroken actor using his role as cover for his public weeping; on the utter masterpiece “He Lets Her Memory Go (Wild)” he builds a dreamy sonic universe into which he pours images of a lonely man holding it all in until, every once in a while, he lets out all of that pent-up emotion, recalling “the sounds in the kitchen [and] the tears of a child”. Oh, man. Come cry with him, people.
Backed by sensitive work from Aaron Goldstein (pedal steel guitar), Natalie Walker (fiddle), and a reverb-drenched choir comprised of Canadian indie musicians Julie Doiron, Misha Bower (Bruce Peninsula), Tamara Lindeman (The Weather Station), and Dallas Good (The Sadies), Romano builds that most welcome of atmospheres: a straight-ahead, honest collaboration between like-minded artists committed to the songs.There is simply no note out of place.
If there is a flaw in this record, it is in the one-two of “Chicken Bill” and “When I Was Abroad” which opens the second half of the album. While the former is a playful—if perhaps underdeveloped—road tale (deeply in debt to Johnny Cash and John Stewart), it ends on a cliffhanger that the latter torpedoes by filling in the blanks for us. But this is a minor issue when weighed against the grand success of the other eight songs here, a collection of tunes both idiosyncratic and classic, the kind of material you can instantly imagine as standards in your local bar band’s repertoire. The kind of stuff that will, if there’s any sense in this world, soon be immediately recognizable as a “Daniel Romano song”.