The Secretly Canadian Newsletter

This album has been a long time coming for Daniel Smith. It’s been ten years now since the first recorded Danielson album (A Prayer for Every Hour). Danielson head chief and eldest sibling Daniel Smith has always tried to keep the Danielson music making fluid and therefore things have evolved. While it all clearly started as his baby which he wrote and then directed with the help of his siblings, the Danielson Famile of New Jersey has naturally become more and more of a collaboration and a group over the course of five full-lengths (the latest of which was 2001’s Fetch the Compass Kids). As the Danielson Famile was coming together, Daniel wrote “Tri-Danielson!!!”, splitting Danielson into three sides. The idea was to honor the Danielson Famile by continuing to collaborate more and also give Daniel a place to write and play his other songs. Br. Danielson (“Brother Danielson”) is this place.

On this sixth Danielson release, the entire Famile (siblings Andrew, David, Megan, and Rachel; wife Elin; friends Christian & Melissa Palladino; daughter Lilly) as are familiar co-conspirators (father Lenny, Sufjan Stevens, John Ringhofer and Ted Velykis) are all here supporting Daniel.

On “Brother is to Son”, all the special-ness that the full band brought to previous Danielson albums is fully present. The earnest vocal chirp of head Danielson himself is still there, not to mention the empassioned and punk-inspired hard strum of his acoustic guitar. He still leads his folk jamboree through the familial boy-girl harmonies as the banjos, bells, piano keys and jaw harp all teem with kinetic energy, like a deconstructionalist jug band led by a man who follows in the bold footsteps of Sun Ra, Don Van Vliet and Johnny Lydon as a truly original art terrorist.

What is unique about this new window into the Danielson brain-cage is its pervasive tenderness, most clearly manifested in the ever-broadening vocal range of Daniel. Taking a cue from Dylan’s Bringing it All Back Home, Brother is to Son opens confidently and intensely while slowly turning in on itself by its second half, on which Smith brings a vulnerability unmatched on his previous five albums. Oh so humbly does he pose questions of the most personal sort, begging of the listener an openness of spirit.

On “Hammers Sitting Still”, we find one of the most interesting Danielson songs to date, with lyrics that focus on his “other” job as a carpenter and contains some fantastic Robert Fripp-like crystalline guitar formations by Soul-Junk’s Glen Galaxy and shared vocals with wife Elin, who acts as the guardian angel to the doubtful Daniel, re-assuring him that it’s alright to sing about such supposed personal trivialities as the compromise one makes for the daily wage war:

“I just lost my finger, and I’ve dropped my hammer down. I pour out on this poor ladder, and my work boots can’t be found. I feel held back and frustrated, insecure and I’m annoyed. All my bubbles have been bursted, and I’m left with shoulders bruised. Work is robbing me of living, they were right on about my dreams.”

It’s when Smith merges the personal with universal that we find him at his most magical as an artist. That’s what makes the last three tunes on Brother is to Son the most inspired 12 minutes in the Danielson body of work.

The title track “Brother: Son” is the perfect album closer, opening with a hush and a little drummer boy’s snare going rat-a-tat-tat, and then slowly unfolding three-quarters into the song into a chorus of angels urging the downed Smith to “give it up and crawl on through” to which he, reinvigorated, repeatedly sings with the angels in the most ecstatic full-member curtain call chorus “To tell you all the truth, the son can only do what he sees his papa do,” signaling the full circle has been traversed. It is a triumphant and monumental closing to the most confident and fulfilling Danielson album to date.


Things Against Stuff

Cookin' Mid-County

Animal In Every Corner

Daughters Will Tune You

Our Givest

Sweet Sweeps

Perennial Wine

Hammers Sitting Still

Physician Heal Yourself

Brother: Son