Sometimes the story behind an album is just too slick, as if it’s pilfered from a film script – music moguls discover the next big thing by accident as he sings his songs in a late night bar – too Hollywood for real surely. Well, whether Daniel Gadd is the next big thing we don’t know yet but it’s true that this young South African was playing in a bar in London one night where two PR chaps happened to be. Impressed, they followed up and discovered that Gadd had an album already recorded and just waiting to be released here. The result of their talks is this release which Gadd had recorded by the ocean at Cape Town a few years earlier and it’s very impressive. A truly solo effort, just Gadd, guitar and harmonica, bohemian folkies and lovers of that Greenwich Village troubadour sound of the sixties will surely be queuing up to buy this album once they a whiff of it.
There’s no escaping the overall feel of early Dylan and Cohen which underpins the eight songs here. Gadd’s melodies are simple, folk based, reminiscent of the unadorned yet intriguing tunes which Dylan was pilfering in his early days. His guitar playing is quite accomplished, more akin to the UK folkies of the time while his voice is somewhat lonesome and beguiling, evoking both Tim Hardin and the nascent Cohen. Lyrically he hits all the spots. Deeply romantic in a bedsit fashion, the elements, nature, a restless highway urge, lovers lost, lovers remembered, they all feature here.
All eight songs are impressive but there’s something of a dichotomy here. When Gadd picks up his harmonica and forlornly blows into it, Dylan immediately springs to mind. Sleep Turns Her Face and Just Like The Road are prime examples, lovely songs but the harmonica breaks are just too Dylanesque. The closing song, Somedays Down a Highway, resolves this as the harmonica is fully woven into this quintessentially weary slice of folk existentialism. However when it’s just voice and guitar Gadd really shines. Siri Lynn, which opens the album, is as tender, poetic and romantic as Cohen’s Suzanne while Some Time Ago (On A Cold Winter’s Night) is a chilling song which harks back to Child Ballad tales of beguiling sea creatures with the stark melody and delivery recalling Lennon’s Working Class Hero, a strange mix but it works. Perhaps the best song here is The Trail I’m Tracking which manages to join the early romantic Dylan to his later work on Time Out of Mind, a simple guitar motif repeated as Gadd, sounding wonderfully weary, tries to find his way.
As If In A Dream I Drifted At Sea is an astonishing work coming, as it does, from a young unknown artist. It’s a late night reverie, a bedsit delight, and hopefully just the first from this very promising young songwriter.