It’s been a great year for new fashioned old fashioned country with Cale Tyson and Andrew Combs both releasing some spectacular sounds. Hot on their heels comes Ontario’s Daniel Romano with the glorious sweep of If I’ve Only One Time Askin’, a record stuffed full of romanticism, sorrow and grit and laden with weeping pedal steel and lachrymose strings. Romano’s been called a countrypolitan revivalist and while there are moments here when the strings well up there’s no saccharine involved, just a yearning and at times empty heart. He calls it Mosey music saying, “Mosey music is a study in contrasts. There’s glitz and grit, revelling and wallowing, wretchedness and showmanship. Mosey music’s pioneers wore their battered hearts on sequined sleeves.”
Supported by a fine cast of musicians (Kay Berkel on trumpet, accordion, and vocals, brother Ian Romano providing some drums parts, fiddler Natalie Walker, pianist Micah Hulscher, and pedal steel virtuoso Aaron Goldstein) Romano sings with an earnest baritone, never sobbing but emotionally in touch with the elements of a song allowing him to tug at the heartstrings when required. This is most evident on the cover of There’s A Hardship (rescued from a George Jones album), the wrenching Learning To Do Without Me and the immaculate Nashville waltz of The One That Got Away (Came Back Today). While most of the songs are of the broken heart variety Romano weaves some magic within and between the song selections. The opening strings of the opening song I’m Gonna Teach You are almost Mantovani in their lushness and strings reappear at the end linking into the next song, a trick repeated throughout the album although on each occasion they are somewhat off kilter. Meanwhile the sheer musical beauty of I’m Going To Teach you cloaks a heavy vindictiveness contained in the lyrics which is alarming in its intensity and lyrically Romano throws up some heavy hits elsewhere. On Old Fire Die, a savage dissection of a broken relationship swathed in swooning pedal steel and wistful accordion he has his erstwhile lovers say “ What do you get from loving me, why is our marriage in danger?…I get more happiness from a bottle and get more love from a stranger.” Simply devastating.
There’s some curdled country rock on the duet with Caitlin Rose that is Strange Faces and the title song recalls John Hartford with its ringing clarity and rippling guitars but Romano throws another ball out of left field on the rollicking tale of Two Word Joe. Joe’s a man reduced to two word sentences when his mind gave up after two failed relationships and his tale is delivered with a sardonic glee reminiscent of the late Shel Silverstein backed by Doctor Hook. Closing the album with the unabashed funereal sentiment of Let Me Sleep (At The End Of A Dream), delivered with a gorgeous pedal steel turn, Romano still has a cynical moment as he sees the rapture as, “when the horn blows and God turns away” A magnificent end to a magnificent album.
Here’s a short film recorded on Daniel Romano’s UK tour a year back. See if you can spot Blabber’n’Smoke pal Martyn Bonanza.