(5 / 5)
I have previously reviewed Dan’s output for a magazine I used to work for – and I also interviewed him a few years ago too. So, I recognise this quote as one of mine, which is used in the marketing blurb for this album:
“A triple threat, a fine songwriter, a unique vocal talent and a talented multi-instrumentalist/performer”.
Having heard this new 22-track, double album from Dan, his first solo album for four years, I most definitely stand by that previous quote. And some….
One of those moments as a journalist and music writer, where your critical brain flips a switch and you just sit back and let the music wash over you like a warm bath, to soak up the wonderful sounds like a spa detox session.
The first set of songs here is a departure from what I recall of his previous work, but the class and quality is fully intact. Dan is one of those artists, and one of those voices, that truly defies the logic of the music business…
By that I mean, there are some big stars with a fraction of Dan’s talents as a singer and as a songwriter, who fill arenas and top the bill at festivals. But Dan is somewhat of a best kept secret, in as much as he is not a household name and when he does tour, his venues are much more “intimate” – as his fee will reflect. But by golly, he should be what we know as a “star”, based on the results of this glorious twin set of discs.
Beautifully produced by Boo Hewerdine and record label boss Tom Rose, who also manages Dan and a roster of other solid artists. I think Tom is the same guy whose record shop I used to frequent in Derby city centre, and then one day, it was gone. Sadly, like many others.
So, for those who are new to Mr Whitehouse, who is he? A 41-year-old artist from Wolverhampton, based now in Birmingham, son of a Wolverhampton community radio pioneer.
He went solo in 2007 after back-up work and fronting a rock band. Much live work supporting an array of credible artists/bands. Dan released his debut record, the seven-track “The Balloon EP”, in 2009, followed by “The Bubble” EP later that year. Then “The Box” EP the same year.
His self-titled debut album was released in 2012, and the follow-up in 2013, “Reaching For A State of Mind”. Four previously unreleased tracks from the “Reaching For A State Of Mind” sessions were later released as “Reaching Further For A State of Mind” EP.
In 2014, Dan toured North America for the first time, with accordion-playing German-American singer-songwriter Anja McCloskey, and released a joint-EP, “Still”, before his “Raw State” album. He signed to the vibrant Reveal Records label for fourth album, 2016’s “Introducing” and a series of EPs. His second album for Reveal, “That’s Where I Belong” dropped in 2016.
His style has been compared to Nick Drake and Richard Hawley, and I repeat my previous comparison that his vocals remind me a wee bit of that gentle, breathy, wistful delivery of Colin Blunstone.
The two CDs here are split into 12 & 10 songs, respectively. Disc # 1 produced by Tom Rose, recorded and mixed by John Elliott (The Little Unsaid) and features Eric Lane (Joan As Police Woman) minimalist composer Richard J. Birkin and BBC Jazz Award winning Saxophonist Xhosa Cole.
Alongside the new songs, Tom suggested Dan record versions of “Crazy On The Weekend” by obscure one-album Nottingham band Sunhouse, and 2004 track “Weightlifting” by The Trashcan Sinatras.
This first set of songs, a darker, more experimental side to Dan as an artist. For the first album, Dan came up with an entirely new way of working, by writing instrumental music only. His lyrics usually come first, and then the music to serve the words.
So, after a frustrating creative dry period, Dan discovered some field recordings of bird song and borrowed phrases from the birds, learning them on guitar, which set him free from the clutches of scales and well-worn shapes on the fret board, enabling him to explore harmony in a deeper way.
These riffs became the starting point for experimental sessions with Dan’s band (John Large drums, Simon Smith bass, Xhosa Cole sax). From these early sessions came two of the album tracks “I Became The City” and “What I Didn’t See”. After two years of writing and experimenting, Dan had recorded around 70 demos, where some distinctly different music had emerged.
The second disc is a rawer, more live setting, mainly guitar and vocal, recorded with Jon Kelly (Kate Bush, Prefab Sprout) in London and produced by Boo Hewerdine, who also adds some guitar and co-writes two songs.
The voice and the songs – he co-wrote lyrics with Boo Hewerdine, Ben Matthew, Jason Tarver & John Elliott – are tip top, across the full 22 tracks. Dan also turns in some gorgeous electric guitar work.
He comes out of his comfort zone on the first dozen cuts on disc one though, and we hear a different side to this artist. The other 10 songs on CD # 2 are far more the Dan Whitehouse we know. It really is a pointless exercise for me to pick out “standout tracks”, because you gotta hear all 22 of them and make your own mind up, but there’s no duffers here, to my ears. It is a very even listen, for sure.
There is a subliminal thread through these 22 songs: An imagined journey of ‘dreamland’, that ends in the stark realisation of the lyric for the closing track of the first disc “What I Didn’t See” (‘everything is perfect all the time’). Basically, suggesting we all live in the present moment, and not to worry about tomorrow.
Dan’s ‘present moment’ should be to celebrate the release of what must surely be his best work yet. Hopefully his ‘tomorrow’ will be to deliver much more music as good as as this gold nugget.
- Live Shows: December 8th, Birmingham Kitchen Garden Café, December 9th, London Green Note.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’