The best part of a decade ago, an American friend emailed me a YouTube link of Danny and his performing partner (and future wife) Carrie Elkin singing his quite remarkable song Company of Friends. It made a huge impression on me, and I have heard it a zillion times since and never tire of it. I especially loved - apart from the song itself - the unusual camera angle, Carrie’s divine harmony, and the monochrome video.
And I prayed for the day I would get to review a Danny Schmidt album. And I am delighted to say that the day has now come. I finally get to review his tenth studio album: and what a sweet and profound album it is.
I had not expected Danny and Carrie to be backed by such a sublime bunch of musicians: silly of me really, because I just had to look at the quality of this Austin, Texas based duo to know that they would not surround themselves with journeymen musicians. Three stood out: producer Will Robertson’s keyboards; Fats Kaplin’s dazzling command of stringed instruments; and Southpaw Jones and his harmonica which showed to great effect on the trip down Memory Lane to Newport ’65 and Bob Dylan.
Whereas many albums I review carry amongst their tracks, a few “passengers”, here there are emphatically no dud songs: all pay their rent in the album. But there are two songs that are head, shoulders and torso above the norm: the closing track, and also track 3, the title track.
The closing track (We Need A Better Word) deals with a subject close-on taboo amongst songwriters: miscarriage. Oh gosh... this is a song to make you heart burst with sadness, and yet at the same time it is so simpatico with the legion of women who have suffered the blow of losing a baby in the womb, and then had their sadness compounded by their totally irrational feeling that it was somehow they themselves who were to blame. Oh, my dear Danny...it is clear that you realise in your very core that miscarriage is a sadness that descends on the would-be father too: and this profound understanding has helped you write such a fine song. And Carrie provides such a moving, understated vocal harmony that makes the song as unforgettable as the ...lost child.
And finally we come to the song that everybody is talking about: the title song. It may not be a masterpiece, but it isn’t far short: and it surely is a song that will be sung many years from now.
Standard Deviation is a most unusual song about a passionate lesbian love affair between two female academics from different scientific disciplines. The song is couched in scientific language that mesmerises the listener: one is stunned to see a story displayed in song in this original way.
But do you know the best thing about it? It is this: in an age of Pornhub and Tinder, it is so heartwarming to be reminded that a woman’s most erogenous zone is between her...ears. Hallelujah for reminding us of that fact, and doing it so lyrically in such a mellifluous way.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Danny Schmidt (unknown/website).