[28 September 2011]
Man of Many Moons is Danny Schmidt’s seventh album in eleven years. His career began with Live at the Prism Coffeehouse in 2000, which was recorded in one night at The Prism Coffeehouse in Charlottesville, VA. A singer-songwriter in the classical mold—drawing on influences from giants such as Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen—he’s had his fair share of drama through the years, something you can well sense in his later, tightly woven, lived-in records. After releasing the aforementioned album in 2000 he released two studio albums, Enjoying the Fall in 2001 and Make Right the Time in 2003. After the latter, he moved out of Charlottesville to Austin, after he made the decision that trying to make a living out of music was not his thing. Two significant factors changed all that, though. The job he was expecting in Austin fell through and at the same time he was diagnosed with cancer.
A life-changing period ensued. Having battled the cancer—and won—Schmidt knew he had to use his skill as a musician to earn some money for the sky-high medical bills. He took on some house concert tours, selling homemade recordings in the proceedings, and managed to raise the money needed for the medical expenses. Some of the home recordings found their way to the acclaimed Parables & Primes (2005) and Schmidt, now comfortable with the notion of making a living as a musician released Little Grey Sheep, containing tracks from a seven-year period that for one reason or other did not fit on his earlier albums. To Schmidt’s surprise, the album generated a healthy label interest landing him a deal with folk label Red House Records (home of people like Jorma Kaukonen, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Loudon Wainwright III). His last two albums, including this one, have been released by that fine label.
Man of Many Moons is an intimate and stark record, with Schmidt’s voice and guitar playing as (almost) the sole instruments. It’s like Schmidt is sitting beside you, whispering his songs directly into your ear. The mood is nocturnal, dark at times, and you’re reminded of works like Springsteen’s Nebraska or the songs of Mark Eitzel (of American Music Club fame).
Schmidt’s voice has a uniqueness to it. It’s quite tremulous, a little raspy with a whispering quality. His lyrics are more often than not personal but sometimes worldly affairs are addressed. In the title song Schmidt speaks of having it “all worked out”. He repeats it over and over, deliberately insecure in his phrasing. Hence: He doesn’t have it all worked out. In “Guilty By Association Blues” Schmidt widens his scope and contemplates the ways of the world in a funny, surrealistic way: “Yes, if my pig could learn to count the beans inside the jar/Or make up fancy numbers that look likely from afar/He’d bring us home the bacon like an honest pig’ll do/And I’ll be fat and happy with the Guilty By Association Blues”.
The overall simplicity of the songs makes for a haunting quality but that factor also backfires a bit. As the album progresses it starts to wear slightly thin. But even though some of the tracks lack some bite the overall aura is still strong.