A dulcimer, tribal drums and booming choral vocals begin “Karma King,” the opening track to Don DiLego’s fourth — and best — full-length album, Magnificent Ram A, which is available now. It’s a bold step forward for DiLego, and one that pays off handsomely.
Magnificent Ram A should be thought of as the true successor to 2007’s excellent Photographs of 1971 — 2012’s stripped-back Western & Atlantic EP was recorded and released during the sessions for the new work. But where Photographs sounded like the work of a country rocker with a few analog synths and sound effects at his disposal, Magnificent Ram A is more fully realized in terms of its sonic impact.
When you’re adept on both sides of the glass, there’s always the potential for overproduction. But the ornate touches on Magnificent Ram A work because they — to abuse the hoariest of rock-crit cliches — are always in service of the song. As a result, the playful Brian Wilsonesque kitchen-sink coloration of “I’m on Fire” meshes perfectly with the Stax choppy-guitar-and-horns of the song that follows it, “Go Pack Your Suitcase.” Bluegrass and gospel music inform “Don’t Bury Me Alive” and “The West Side Oak.” Mournful horns flesh out the last two tracks, “Running in Place With a Desperate Heart” and “Idiot Heart.”
And the single, “Drive Like Pirates,” whose video you can see below, has more than a hint of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” in the rhythm track. What keeps it all together are generous doses of reverb, the strong quality of the songwriting and DiLego’s clear and moving voice, which is what struck me when I first heard it nine years ago and continues to impress.
Four years ago in a Desert Island Discs feature here, DiLego wrote about his love for Wilco’s Being There. That record’s ability to be eclectic and yet sound like the work of the same band is one of its biggest strengths, and, with Magnificent Ram A, Don DiLego has given us his version of it. Buy it at Amazon or Bandcamp.