Throughout the pandemic, Daniel Romano has been on a tear of musical production, delivering genre-smashing collections of rock faster than the likes of Robert Pollard and Ty Segall. While his past 12 or so records tended to tout a Dylanesque songwriting approach to folk, rock, power pop, punk, and prog, with Cobra Poems, Romano’s group lean into a more collaborative, electric approach while solidifying Romano’s status as a singer-songwriter at the height of his powers. Produced by Romano and recorded in Camera Varda, the band’s newly built studio on the banks of the Welland Canal in Ontario, the record provides a momentary stay against confusion for our troubled times, bravely standing up to spiritual degradation with steadfast rebellion and all-encompassing love.
The album begins with “Tragic Head”, a track that sways with blistering, flashy guitar riffs reminiscent of Marc Bolan and soars with glorious “Into the Mystic”-styled saxophones. “What are you gonna do with all that bread?” Romano laments. “Build an escalator / Ride it to the sun / Leave us all behind with what can’t be undone.” Warning listeners of the dire consequences of embracing soulless materialism, the track reaches new heights for Romano’s outfit. It perfectly segues into the magisterial accordion, troubadour finesse, and creative chord progressions of “Even in the Loom of a Caress”.
An absolute smash of a single that threatens to burn the world down because there’s nothing left to do, “Nocturne Child” then unfurls its rock ‘n’ roll brilliance. At first, the track feels like a boozy take on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s”Gimme Three Steps”, but it quickly morphs into some truly Parnassian power pop, guitar, and organ intermingling seamlessly. “Don’t got no grace or dignity / I’m heavy on my feet / I’d kill the son of god for a little bite to eat,” boasts the besotted hero of Romano’s anthem, elevating the song by tapping into a collective spirit of unrest. That same restlessness continues on “The Motions”, an inspired road ballad sung with panache by Julianna Riolino. “I’m just going through the motions / Like a sunset, like a stem / On that never-ending highway / Hoping someday / To thumb a friend.” Riolino plays the part of the vagabond dreamer, commanding the mic through to the song’s conclusion.
Tuneful horns, organs, and guitars then entwine on the larger-than-life, apocalyptic track “Holy Trumpeteer”. Next, guitarist David Nardi’s bombastic solos and rich choral backing vocals elevate “Animals Above Our Town”, a song brimful of transcendent longing. “Take me under the itkul and cut my hair / Cuz I can’t take the weight of a pagan prayer / Oh baby if you don’t like it there / Take me to the roof / We’ll be just like animals above our town.” His Romantic misfit collective watches the world burn from on high but as Romano belts out on “Holy Trumpeteer”: “How could the end be near / When all the children cheer?”
Elsewhere, Riolino’s dulcet vocals are anchored by Ian Romano’s vigorous drumming and Roddy Rossetti’s adventurous bass lines on the undulating “Tears Through a Sunrise”, which melds into the soulfully percussive romp “Baby If We Stick It Out”. The shimmering folk-rock ballad “Still Dreaming” then unveils its unrequited romance before the album wraps up with the flowery psychedelia of “Camera Varda”, a song that reminds listeners that “Love is the bond / Between time and everyone.” Its vocal harmonies are reminiscent of Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac at first, then the song blooms into a joyous pirouette of harmonious vocals and exultant horns that is simply dazzling.
With such a far-reaching and dense forest of musical projects, it’s hard to predict what tones, styles, and influences Romano and his Outfit will reach for throughout this complete and ambitious album. With Cobra Poems, the group of friends and family that combine to form the Outfit click on all cylinders for fans of folk, rock, power pop, psychedelia, and guitar-driven poetry alike.