May 26, 2016
Is he a devil in disguise, or the ghost of Johnny Cash?
A shape-shifting musical chameleon with one foot firmly planted in the western tradition, Daniel Romano could have been a friend of Gram Parsons back in the country-rock heyday of the late 1960s. But if Parsons was the father of “Cosmic American Music,” how do we define Romano’s sound?
Not so easily it turns out.
Most recently, Romano’s 2015 effort If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ has been the toast of the Canadian neo-country music scene—strong on the classic vibe, but not derivative—with his own distinct sound unlike anything you’ll hear on the radio.
But there’s much more to Romano than just a wide-spanning vocal range and a knack for heart-wrenching lyricism.
Outside of his musical pursuits, Romano also has a great appreciation for classic country clothing and design style. Back in his hometown of Fenwick, Ontario, he’s one of five partners in Friday’s Child, a vintage clothing and apparel shop, and is also known to tool away on his own handmade leather guitar straps, some of which have been made for artists such as Kathleen Edwards and Afie Jurvanen of Bahamas. He’s also a talented graphic designer, not just for his own needs, but for commercial clients and other musicians including City and Colour.
His musical start came from playing alongside his brother Ian in the short-lived, but highly regarded folk-rock-hardcore group Attack in Black. While making their way through a handful of releases and countless tours, they were hit by record label pressures (having to re-record an entire album when Dine Alone Records rejected their first attempt at 2007 full-length Marriage with iconic producer Ian Blurton) and internal tensions (including a brotherly disagreement that resulted in violence while flying down the highway in the van—but not before getting a taste of fame opening for the likes of Built To Spill and Billy Talent.
In the middle of these rough times, Romano found time to contribute guitar work to albums by Shotgun Jimmie, The Luyas, and City and Colour, while also co-founding You’ve Changed Records with former Attack in Black bandmate Ian Kehoe and Steve Lambke of the Constantines. He then began to go out on his own with his solo material—first with the legendary indie-rock songstress Julie Doiron for 2009’s Daniel, Fred & Julie—before dropping his first full length in 2010, the ruminating tongue-in-cheek masterpiece Workin’ For The Music Man. Great lyrics detail Romano’s distaste for the workings of the music industry and gives a glimpse into the classic country sound he would perfect over the next few releases.
Sleep Beneath The Willow quickly followed in early 2011, which garnered a Polaris long list nomination, before he really took off with 2013’s Come Cry With Me. The album earned rave reviews from Rolling Stone and Exclaim for good reason, with tender lyrics and impeccable songwriting, showcasing Romano’s in-depth knowledge of what makes country-western one of the most incredible musical traditions—if done properly.
This stripped down version of “I’m Not Crying Over You” also shows off the tender pedal-steel guitar sound that harkens back to the golden age of the western tradition. Between the rich country instrumentation, soulful vocals that stretch from high to low, and the heart-on-his-sleeves lyricism, this is Romano at his best.
That takes us to Romano’s most recent release, the JUNO-nominated If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ and the answer to our original question—what exactly is Daniel Romano’s sound?
Well, if you ask the artist himself, he’ll tell you it’s “mosey music.”
In his words, from a statement given around the album’s release, Romano explains, “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.”
You can hear that sound shine through on this live take of the album’s lead single, “The One That Got Away (Came Back Today)” with it’s three-quarter time signature propelling the chord progression’s simple strum pattern, allowing his heartfelt lyrics to ring true in the listener’s ear.
Thankfully, Romano’s not slowing down anytime soon, with his just-announced new album (aptly titled Mosey) due to drop May 27. Yet again, Romano defies even his own definitions, with the lead single “Valerie Leon,” featuring lush production that makes his sound shine in a completely new way.
Fit for cowboys and hipsters alike, Romano’s sound is one that bridges historical and contemporary country music in a way all of its own. Find him on tour across Europe this spring, and hopefully across Canada during summer festival season.