Calling Terry Scott Taylor a “hero” of mine makes me kind of itchy. Taylor doesn’t seem the type to court throngs to elevate him to hero status, and when he has it has been strictly for the sake of sarcasm and satire. He has been, for decades, the architect of great music either as a solo act, with the Americana supergroup The Lost Dogs, or with the band that started it all, Daniel Amos. But let me say one thing about Daniel Amos — I hold the albums made by the band in the same lofty regard as I do some of my favorites from The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Big Star…
…and thanks to crowd-funding site Kickstarter, DA is back and ready to release Dig Here, Said The Angel. Since the last DA album Mr. Buechner’s Dream came out in 2001 many people could only dream that new music and a full-blown reunion record would ever occur. And yet, here we are.
Terry sat down for nearly an hour and very graciously answered every question I had. I could have talked for hours more, except that what you will hear from me in this interview is impending laryngitis mixed with reserved geeking out.
As for the record itself…
Being a critic means, to the reader, that I should come at this effort with a higher sense of objectivity than most, that I can detach myself enough from my likes and dislikes that I could divine what is good, as someone always arriving with fresh ears and no preconceptions…which is absurd when you think about it. We bring our baggage — both our expensive Louis Vuitton bags and our ripped plastic sacks from the grocery store — to all we do. We can do our best to keep our biases at bay and attempt fairness, but when it comes right down to it, that is the best we can do. Attempt.
A point of clarification needs to be made when it comes to my reviewing the new album. I’ve waited twelve years for this, a record that should never have happened if the market forces had any say in it. The market forces failed to see the rise of crowdfunding, however, and even though DA’s fanbase is somewhat a cult, it is a big enough cult to have seen the group sail through their Kickstarter proposal. In the interest of full disclosure I readily admit I am one of the people who helped fund the effort, am therefore a financial supporter, and as such have a stake in my views of the release. Once again I say that this is an attempt at a clear view of what we have been presented, and is by all the barriers I’ve described already a failed effort.
The album Dig Here, Said The Angel in my opinion is not failed, not at all. The music contained has all the colors and tempos, the ambitions and skills, that might be uncommon for a group that initially came together in 1976.
You’ve heard them as have I, these albums that have come from bands in the game for decades, and the music sounds like they have been. They’re so very, very tired that they can’t rise above a threatening stumble of a rhythm, but it doesn’t matter that they’re two speeds below lethargic because you’re a dutiful fan and you’ll buy it anyway. And you’ll say it is awesome, at least for a couple weeks, then plop it onto your music shelf and go back to one of the older releases.
But not here. There are times on Dig Here, Said The Angel that are as ferocious as any the band has ever recorded. Tracks like the brooding yet ultimately uplifting title cut, the punky “Now That I’ve Died,” the power-pop “Waking Up Under Water,” or the ’60s-ish California-sounding “Love, Grace and Mercy” have a pulse and they exhibit it remarkably well. Lead singer and lyricist Terry Scott Taylor has often said he writes ’60s pop albums, and so the touchstones of his inclinations are bound to show through. “Love, Grace and Mercy” has that Beach Boys edge at points, especially in the vocal backups and grand production nods, like the outro that brings out the bells and strings, underpinned by fuzzed out guitars holding down the bassline.
That is one side of the whole, which is in fact a rumination on mortality. Sometimes it is a cry of exasperation, as in the title cut; the realization that no matter who or what you believe, and what road you’re traveling, we’re all heading to that same, singular destination (“We’ll All Know Soon Enough”); or it is a beautiful and somewhat upsetting parting of the ways, as with “The Ruthless Hum of Dread” which has grown to be the favored track of the set for me. In this song, Taylor has found a way to mix both the tenderness of letting go and the sadness of the departing, and the band comprised of guitarist co-lead Jerry Chamberlain, longstanding members Greg Flesch (guitars), Tim Chandler (bass), Ed McTaggart (drums) and Rob Watson (keyboards) walk that balance between ethereal and eerie. It is a portrait of faithfulness blended with the fear of uncertainty, but it isn’t morbid.
The album closes with the declaration track “The Sun Shines On Everyone,” which finds Taylor revisiting themes like he presented on previous album closers like The Lost Dogs’ “Breathe Deep,” being the kinship of all, despite individual beliefs, despite different skin and gender. The sun is indifferent to our differences, and you can either receive that in a spiritual way or a pragmatic way. It just is that way.
For many years, I have complained about the inability of artists in their later days to articulate that place in their lifetimes. Most regress into their earlier personae, coming off creepily like they’re trying to score points with their grandkids by mimicking their behaviors. Others, as previously mentioned, grumble and groan as they crawl into their adult contemporary skins and refuse to show their fangs, forsaking any vitality that still must be there but might seem unbecoming in exhibition. With this recording, Daniel Amos treads that path between being grown ups and still being able to pull that gear up and let fly. Twelve years is a long wait, but by the last track the patience seemed more than rewarded.
Problematically, that’s exactly what you would expect from me, so my resounding endorsement is stunted. I can only hope you would give the record a chance to work on you, ignoring the fact I’m asking you to do so. It is a very good album and may well be in the top five of this group’s career. It is probably going to be my number one album of 2013. Some fanboys never learn, I guess.
Find out more about DA and Dig Here, Said The Angel at the band’s site: www.danielamos.com