Daniel Romano: Come Cry With Me

Written by January 16th, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Daniel Romano
Come Cry With Me
(Normltown)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Country music is a genre, of course, but it’s also a geographical location: we expect at least some degree of physical southern roots or innate twang birthright from its ardent preachers, particularly those brave enough to wear a Nudie-inspired suit on stage and sing downright traditional songs in the vein of 40’s Nashville or 50’s Bakersfield: tales of women come and gone – mostly gone, actually – told with a wistful eye through a mouth that’s maybe kissed more bottles of whiskey than babies.

Daniel Romano, hailing not from the south but the great white north – Ontario, to be exact – may not have been raised in the Tennessee countryside or Texas plains, but his knack for broken-hearted trad-county songs that pay tribute to Gram Parsons and Hank Williams is fairly uncanny for someone surrounded more by ice hockey than honky-tonks. Coming from a thin, 27-year old Canadian whose only connection to the genre is from his grandparents (big country radio fans), and who used to play in an indie punk-band, this could all come off as a little eye-roll-inducing if it weren’t so well executed. It’s a fine line between revival and parody, and he walks it well, cowboy boots and all.

And sure, the whole package, down to the vintage-looking album cover, rhinestone suits and cowboy hat could also just read as kitsch: take Jonny Fritz, who, despite lyrics about panty liners, still proves to be an excellent songwriter – and had to lose the Corndawg moniker and embroidered shirts to make anyone actually realize it. Plus, the album title – Come Cry With Me – is perhaps a too literal hint to the fact that, hey, this is about sad, steel guitar weepers and not much more.

Luckily, he’s pretty damn good at those weepers. “Middle Child,” the album’s opener, showcases Romano’s storytelling ability: it’s the tale of his friend, who, as one of three children, was the only one inexplicably put up for adoption. It’s a little heartbreaking when he sings “you sent me off and then you went and had my brother,” his voice never quite reaching faux-southern annunciation but making up for it in nasality. When the chorus kicks in, powered by a smooth, subtle drumline and a fiddle-steel guitar conversation, the power is at its most palpable.

Though 70’s Texan denim-on-denim acts like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt have become more popular inspiration sources of late, Romano reads straight from the playbook of songs like George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and Gram Parsons’ “Return of the Grievous Angel.” Take “Two Pillow Sleeper,” a southern break-up song waltz and “Just Between You and Me,” another late-night, slow dance for straw-covered barns about the woes of impossible love, with call and response verses that conjure up Parsons and Emmylou Harris (in style, not in ability). Then there’s “He Let Her Memory Go (Wild)” which, melodically, doesn’t stand out much – aside from the charming barbershop low-notes that Romano hits unexpectedly.

Come Cry With Me is aching for a couple great foot-stompers – the two up-tempo songs on the record, “Chicken Bill” and “When I Was Abroad” are the moments when it’s a little unclear whether or not this is all an exercise in irony. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fun and funny, but sandwiched in the middle of eight tears-in-the-grass numbers, they don’t pull off the fine balance of humor and sadness to a two-step beat that his revered contemporaries could pull off so well. Country music, overtaken with pop renderings, could benefit from more acts just as willing to reinvent “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” or Rodney Crowell’s “She’s Crazy for Leaving” than its weepy balladry.

The album comes to an end with two strong closers: “Just Before the Moment,” and the haunting “A New Love (Can Be Found),” which was recorded live. The latter finds Romano truly showcasing his writing strengths in a piece that could ring as true with or without twang. And that’s how the best country tunes are, anyway. Nudie suits and 10-gallon hats are well and good. But at the end of the day, it’s all for the sake of the song – north or south of the border.

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