For the last several decades now, some of the best country music seems to have come from nearly everywhere but Nashville. Whether in 1990s Chicago with the insurgent country spearheaded by the folks at Bloodshot Records, the south inhabited by the Drive-By Truckers and their sphere of influence, a host of vibrant Texan scenes or Dwight Yoakam’s modern-day take on the Bakersfield sound, more artists outside of NashVegas’ more pop-oriented sheen seem content to explore the dusty back roads of heartache originally trod by Hank, Willie, Waylon, Merle and a host of others. Add to these wildly disparate geographic points of origin Canada.
Themes of heartache and longing permeate the music of Daniel Romano. No surprise given the era the Canadian country music revivalist strives to evoke not only thematically but also aesthetically and musically. For Romano, it’s as though the last thirty years or more of country music never happened and his most direct influences are those of country music’s heyday, coming from a time when the music conveyed universally relatable sentiments rather than a commercially available lifestyle aesthetic.
Moving away from the twangier elements of 2013’s Come Cry With Me, with his latest, Daniel Romano ups the product values and overall ambition. Where that album felt more akin to Gram Parsons’ approximation of country music, If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ finds Romano taking a more countrypolitan approach to the music, fleshing out his arrangements with strings and lusher production. It’s as though in his longing for a bygone era in country music, Romano is seeking to create a chronologically accurate representation of where his career might have gone had he begun his career in the mid-1960s rather than the mid-2000s.
Opener “I’m Gonna Teach You” immediately presents If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ as something bigger, more cinematic in its approach to a vintage countrypolitan sound than its predecessor. Not only in terms of production, but instrumentation, the majority of which performed by Romano, the track and the rest of the album make a case for Romano as one of, if not the, best traditionalist country singers and songwriters working today. Where before slide guitar and fiddle served as the basis for his compositions, they now are built largely around Charlie Rich-esque piano lines and full-bodied acoustic guitar.
In the grand country tradition of first-person narration, Romano steps into the role of heartbroken everyman on nearly every song here. With song titles like “I’m Gonna Teach You”, “If You Go Your Way (I’ll Go Blind)”, “Learning to Do Without Me”, and the title track, it’s clear Romano knows how to inhabit the part of the downtrodden country balladeer. Because of this, If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ is full mid-tempo weepers that find him in good company, sounding at times like a combination of Robbie Fulks and Dwight Yoakam while still remaining true to himself.
No more so than on “Learning to Do Without Me,” a classic in the making that, were there any justice in the world, would find Romano a prominent fixture on country music stations. But as it stands, Romano, like Yoakam and Fulks, will likely contain to cull a loyal and highly devoted cult following, a secret cabal united in the knowledge of country music’s best-kept secret.
“No more hurtin’ or cryin’ / Those days are gone/ I finally found deep inside me the way to move on,” he sings on “All The Way Under The Hill”. It’s a half-hearted attempt to assure himself he’s past the heartache and sorrow that dominates the rest of the album. Brilliantly arranged and performed with one song flowing into the next, it helps lend an air of continuity and conceptual cohesion to this collection of broken love songs.
Thematically If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ is a triumph, a massive step forward that finds Romano pushing himself both in terms musical and lyrical, looking to get to the booze-soaked heart of country music. Having confirmed it to still be beating, he delivers a set worthy of inclusion alongside the best of the genre’s biggest names. No mere album, If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ is a career milestone for Daniel Romano, one that should see his music reaching a wider audience.