Dan Hamann – Lumbering Grace – Album Review
We’re starting this day up officially on the lighter side of sound, because it straight-up feels GOOD.
And besides, it’s really not all that often you get to hear a record like what Dan Hamann’s put together here. Lumbering Grace draws on a fantastic combination of wild musicianship and comedic tendencies; make no mistake though folks, this record is no joke, even if it might prove to be a laughing matter.
The man’s got a wonderful way of thinking and a beautifully warped perspective on the world that I couldn’t get enough of – Dan’s got personality for miles, as the kids say. It’s every bit true though, and you couldn’t possibly miss it as “This Shirt Don’t Feel Right” starts out there record, musing on a mundane situation that just about every single one of us has been through, immediately revealing his gift for turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. As a guy that tends to hit bed 2x a day for quick three hour naps and gets right back to work just about every day of the week every week, I can tell ya firsthand that a track like this spoke to me in the oddest of ways. Quite often, I’m getting up somewhere around 2am in the pitch black, I do my best to keep quiet as to not disturb the wife’s slumber…and what do I do? Exactly what this song proves you’re NEVER supposed to do, because it NEVER works out right – I grab my “clothes from the back of the closet” – and without even realizing it, I’ll go down the stairs to the studio and get halfway there before coming to the conclusion that “This Shirt Don’t Feel Right” – like, not at all. And either it’ll send me running back up for another blind selection made in the dark, or more often than not, it’ll make me realize the entire operation I’ve got goin’ on is completely inside out, backwards, and as ill-fitting as a shirt can possibly be worn. So YES Dan – you’ve not only created a fantastic song that delivers on humor for most, but for some of us, you’ve documented our reality in a fascinating way that hit the mark with startling accuracy! Bright & bold right from the drop, musically “This Shirt Don’t Feel Right” instantly packs a colorful punch of sound through your speakers with stunning chops, wild instrumentation, and killer use of space & pace along the way – you factor in the tremendous personality that Hamann brings to the microphone on this very first tune alone and the clever way he presents his lyricism here for a first impression, and you gotta hand it to the man for doing everything right. This shirt might not feel right, but it sure sounds like it does, you dig? You know you’re in for an off the wall experience when an album starts like this does.
As far as I’ve read in the notes & details I’ve got here, Dan’s been performing many of these songs throughout the length of his career as a live performer, which spans an impressive twenty-five-plus years out there. I mention this, because you can certainly hear the level of professional commitment you’d expect from a career musician & seasoned vet of the scene in the performance of “Fonzie Dies With Us” – he’s a man that completely understands comedic timing and how to use it to his advantage. Timing comes into play all throughout this second tune…and as funny as it is, like so many of these songs are, it’ll be the insightful commentary that exists between the lines that’s equally impressive, every time. “Fonzie Dies With Us” is a perfect example of what Dan is able to do so damn well, which is to bring us all right into listen through the immaculate commitment he brings to any performance, dazzle you with you humor, jokes, and lines that continuously stand out through multiple voices – but ALSO, to give you a story that warrants consideration as well. It’s tough to be a reviewer & a critic when it comes to comedy-based records – we take alllllllll the fun right outta that shit by communicating the meat & potatoes of it all as plain as day, only without the humor most likely – so listen to this record if you REALLY wanna get an idea of what’s happening here! But like, in February…when it gets released. Anyhow. To me, “Fonzie Dies With Us” truly revealed the next-level thinking of a writer like Dan Hamann – this is exceptionally insightful through & through, even when he’s taking the time to make jokes along the way. This song will make you consider the passing of time as you venture through life over the years to follow, and start wondering what’s gonna die with YOU? Bloody brilliant! You see, The Fonz being the uber-popular character from the ol’ Happy Days, “Fonzie Dies With Us,” is actually an allegorical reference to how as we get older, we become the keeper of so many memories – and if we’re not careful, paying attention, and somehow passing those on…then…well…sorry to be the bearer of bad news folks, but those memories too, would die with us in theory. Sure there will be books & documents we can read – yay – but when you hear a born storyteller like Dan doing his thing on a track like this, it sure makes you appreciate how important it is to have those memories passed on by people that genuinely cherish & care about’em all to begin with. His performance & ideas here are outstanding.
Tracks like “The Dog Song” immediately brought a smile to my face and only made me love what Dan creates even more. The combination of seriously amazing Jazz grooves here and the song being viewed from the dog owner’s perspective was awesome…like, I sit around the house myself and stare at my own dog Opie and wonder what the heck she’s thinking all the time. Dan’s detailed the thoughts roaming through a dog’s head perfectly here, from the owner’s perspective as he tries to come to grips with the reality of barking-hell he’s living in, and then given us the other half of what it’s like to be a dog-owner directly as well…which, admittedly, can be a righteous pain in the A no matter how much we love our furry friends sometimes. This song captures all that & so much more – lyrically, it’s genius, it’s unique, and the vocals of Hamann are a continual standout – but on a composition, instrumentation, and musicianship level as well – everything about “The Dog Song” should be earning Dan & his crew of studio aces gathered from far & wide all the hardware & awards this year. The music of “The Dog Song” is beyond stunning – and the explosion of color that gets put into the bridge in transition, is verifiably awe-inspiring…I’m not even kidding, the switch is purely seamless, and the sound of this band in full swing is extraordinary here. For you see, at some point towards the third minute, inexplicably, and completely unpredictably, “The Dog Song” will launch into a full-on Flamenco jam for a wonderful moment in time you’d never see coming and that you’ll genuinely want to keep going – the color & character in this man’s music is freakin’ spectacular, straight-up. Quite likely the result of the continual inspiration provided by playing with so many talented & unique players coming through the internet from far & wide across the globe – every tune on this album has something new for your ears to enjoy.
I would have a very hard time not personally putting “Block Captain” up there with my favorites. Don’t get me wrong, I can acknowledge the brilliance of a track like “The Dog Song” and know exactly why it makes for a great lead-single to have put out there in advance of this album coming out officially, in addition to loving it for several different reasons of its own – but “Block Captain” is my jam. It’s kind of got this real haunting like…creepiness to it that you’d feel when you’d listen to like, say, “House Of The Rising Sun” – but delivered in a much more subtle way of delivering that vibe overall. I suspect it’s likely intentional…in fact, I’d be willing to bet on it – think of this as like that song’s polar opposite; it’s in knowing that – and in FEELING that – that “Block Captain” becomes even more clever, setting up a vibe & atmosphere that is fully LOADED with anxiety-inducing sound that’ll creep deep into your bones, haunting the very fabric of your being and crawling into the darkest corners of your mind as you sit & listen to the masterfully well played music seep into your soul…and then…and THEN…
…well, basically nothing happens at all you see, and that’s the joke, and it’s absolutely amazing. So amazing in fact, that even telling you about it here, still won’t do “Block Captain” justice. The setup of this song is SO LARGE for a payoff that is ultimately so subtle there’s a huge chance this track flies right over most people’s heads…but if you’re listening and listening closely, it’s absolutely because “Block Captain” comes with such a serious atmosphere to its every moment that it induces one of its deepest laughs and most thought-provoking chuckles along the way through Lumbering Grace without question. Conceptually, I cannot express just how much I love where this guy’s mind goes – the very idea of a “Block Captain” so aware & on watch over what seems to be the most normal, everyday street in suburbia is yet another stellar example of Dan’s ability to see things in life that others just can’t, find humor where none existed before, and brilliantly show us the world anew from his own warped view.
“You Deserve Someone” is a song that…well…how do I explain this best to you on a level you can all understand it from? How about this…I’m the ONLY person that could explain this track to you…and hey, maybe I even will! The thing is that, like, I COULD tell you what this song is all about…but, first of all, I’m a busy man, and secondly…I just don’t know if you’d be able to fully understand a song like this like I do, even if I gave you my description of it, which would obviously be put so much better than anyone else could ever do it. “You Deserve Someone” on your level, way down there, wherever you are, that can explain this to you in a way you can comprehend it…you know…because I’m super thoughtful and I just don’t want you to miss the details I could provide you with, which would obviously be more insightful than any other commentary you’ll find. “You Deserve Someone” who is…hopefully just playing around if they’re willing to speak to you like any of the stuff you see above here, or has any kind of massive ego on display like you’ll find in this tune! “You deserve me, you can’t have me, but I hope you find a reasonable facsimile” – I mean folks, you see what we’re dealing with here right? This guy is an undeniable wordsmith, is SO INTO his craft it’s beyond compelling, and once again, he’s armed with something that’s 100% on-target. “You Deserve Someone” takes on the ego and beats on superficiality in just about every clever way you can think of…err…well…not you, but Dan…if any of us could have thought of this ourselves, we would have done it by now. Hamann’s found spaces that exist in comedy & music that I’ve rarely ever heard at all out there; usually you get results that show the strengths lie in one direction or the other, either weighted towards the humor, or the musicianship – but rarely both. By enlisting so many spectacular all-stars from around the world to bring these songs of his to life was absolutely the best call to have made; not only does it bring out the best in his own writing & material, but it also ensures that every song has its own distinct character, flavor, and personality to itself.
Speaking of – if I am counting correctly, there are an astounding EIGHTEEN PLAYERS jamming it out on “Blue” – and from what I can see, they come from all over the world, even right here in the nation’s capital of Canada where we’re currently based out ourselves (Hi Angela of the oboe!)! Dan’s very inspired by artists & writers like Tom Lehrer, Shel Silverstein, and Cole Porter – and it’s songs like “Blue” that perhaps speak strongest on behalf of influences like this on his own work & these tunes here. So much of what Hamann creates is naturally funny…unforced, because it all comes from genuine observations that are as offbeat & strange as they are insightful & actually full of wisdom – just like his own heroes, he’s emulated a similar style, and really embraced its magic to make it his own. The radiant amount of color & personality on display through the words & music of “Blue” alone are well worth the price of admission into this record; and it’s a master-class in how to write within a theme. This is a song where the craft comes in so strong, that it’d be impossible for listeners not to notice; Dan will make you laugh like he always does for sure, but there is so much ART being made here in “Blue” that you truly can’t help but stand back from a track like this and admire the complete picture it’s managed to paint in your mind as you listen. Combined with the multiple instruments echoing the sheer selection of colors, mimicking the array through a display of every sound under the sun in the smartest of ways – “Blue” is a triumph on all fronts from its majestic & celebratory atmosphere, to the vibrant story at the heart of it.
Heading into a full-on Country music moment, “Spider Bridge” is another highlight for Dan’s mastery of storytelling…I mean, YES, this dude is FUNNY…that’s inarguable – but what’s also completely undeniable is that he’s truly a gifted storyteller on every conceivable level. The man COMMITS when he’s performing these songs, and that’s exactly what makes them connect – without confidence, most comedy is doomed to fail – and Dan’s got boatloads of it. LISTEN to how he alternates between voices on “Spider Bridge” as he weaves this tale will ya? It’s genuinely like Hamann’s got a bottomless bag of tricks when it comes to how multi-faceted this entire record is…versatility is leading the way to victory here, and this set-list of songs seems to know no bounds when it comes to adding in something new. “Do I want my love song to turn out warped & weird?” he’ll muse; and at this point, we already know the answer as to how this whole situation is gonna go down…Dan can’t help himself when it comes to not being normal, and by now we all know it. “Spider Bridge” is yet another seeing-the-unseen in life tune that shows how Dan can find these tiny threads of brilliance and spin the entire yarn into awesomeness – this entire song is really about making sure you don’t have anything touching the floor while you’re about to head off to dreamland, lest ye create yourselves a “Spider Bridge” that leads these eight-legged beasts of the night straight to you while you sleep. Framed within the sweetest & quaint Country love-song style…as strange as this tale IS and as bizarre of an expression of affection that it becomes, make no mistake, this might very well be one of the MOST endearing love-songs you’ll ever stumble across. Think about everything I’ve written here about “Spider Bridge” so far…think about how far away & removed you’d assume the main concept would be from being a love song…and be astounded by how a writer like Dan has the skills to bring it all around full circle by building a remarkable narrative & multiple characters to deliver the goods to ya. The results come beaming back as brilliant as ever here; we’ve all heard love songs before, but you’ll rarely find one out there like “Spider Bridge,” if ever again – this isn’t another “oooo I love you, oooo I need you, oooo I want you, blah blah blah – no – this is 1000% more real than any of those songs will ever be. In creating fiction, artists like Dan get to the heart of the truth.
Case in-point, “Mighty Illusion,” despite the familiar groove you’ll find in the reliable bass-lines, is just about as unique as it gets. And…well…there’s…value in that, of course. Look…I’ll be honest with ya, I was more on the fence about the inclusion of this particular cut than I was with any other song I can point to in the set-list, but it’s still well worth a listen, as I’d suspect anything by Dan Hamann truly IS & always will be. Ultimately, I’m not opposed to anything on this record and I’ve already proudly spun this many, many times in an attempt to absorb its multi-faceted audible awesomeness – and the wildness of the instrumentation in the percussion here ALMOST had me completely onboard…but this track always proved tougher for me by comparison to the rest of the set. One of those cuts where you feel like you understand where Dan wanted to go with it, but also coming along with a keyboard melody that’s gonna be a hit with some & miss with others…musically, even though this is a bit more spare in design, there are actually bigger risks being taken here than on most tunes by how naked it can be at times. “Mighty Illusion” felt almost more stoic as a result…that space that exists between the laughter to give you a moment or two to take stock of everything and just groove on a tune, before the comedy comes roaring back to the record again. Amusing…that’s probably the best word I’ve got to describe “Mighty Illusion” – not a standout, but not a bad tune by any stretch either, just more of a niche one in this particular set.
As Dan walks you through a telephone sales presentation of sorts, you gotta dig the triumphant spirit this track latches onto for the chorus…bringing an uplifting & office-epic vibe to the main hooks, where our hero gets paid for doing his best at the ol’ 9-5. “And Then They Paid Me” is one of those songs where you can really see in your mind how it would connect with a live audience; like I’ve been tellin’ ya, Dan’s timing is impeccably spot-on, and at all of the times – so to hear the great reveal of this cut’s main punchline come out with such an inspired & fantastic rise…I mean, come on, it’s genius, straight up. You can practically see the crowd in front of this guy in a club playing live, laughing away the moment they all hear this line of “And Then They Paid Me” come out for the first time if you close your eyes and cup your ear to the wind just right. He proves to be a complete master of the setup here yet again, dialing back the energy into a smooth, angelic, peaceful, and serene story that seems to reach straight out towards your heartstrings, as you begin to wonder for a moment or two – ‘hey – is Dan just playing this one on the level?’ Of course, if you’ve fallen for this by now at this point on Lumbering Grace, that’s like fool me once shame on you, fool me 2700 times though, and shame on me? Hamann has given you EVERY reason to doubt his normalcy – and it’s exactly what makes him so incredible in moments like this on “And Then They Paid Me.” As endearing as it is entertaining – you’re genuinely rooting for our hero here, and completely connecting with that amazing feeling of MAKING IT, however it is you have in your own life. Maybe you’ve been stuffed into a sales cubicle for years, maybe you’re out there truckin’ it from coast to coast every day of the week, maybe you’ve been out there for far too long “performing on the stage for no pay” with “nothing on your resume” to show for it seemingly…we all connect to the feeling of getting PAID for doing something after trying for so long, and how wonderful it always feels, do we not? Of course we do! Life can change in an instant, and that upswing we’ve been so desperate to find in life CAN happen – sometimes all you have “to do is pick up the phone.” Like so much of what Hamann creates, it’s got its moments of humor for sure, but man is this guy insightful at the same time, and again, always – it’s songs with cleverness like “And Then They Paid Me” that remind you to appreciate how all the little things we do add up to greatness and the life we’ve always dreamed about.
“Pico De Gallo” reminded me a ton of…what was it…I think it’s an old Monty Python skit from back in the day…the one with the dude in the restaurant, who is convinced the last morsel of his meal is only “wafer thin” before ingesting it at long last, and consequently exploding right in front of us thereafter. Built on curious sound that keeps you on the edge of your seat in a very similar way, you trek through this meal with its main character, almost wondering if the star of this show is going to meet that same grim fate as he tries to stuff the last pieces of his meal deep down. Diving deep into the bowl of gluttony, with an appetite to entertain ya, the circus-like playfulness of “Pico De Gallo” only seems to add brilliantly to the mischievous vibe this song pumps out at ya. Dan picks up the accordion here to lead the way, again diversifying the music in an entirely new direction alongside the low booming notes from the tuba and playful clarinets – it’s stocked & loaded with personality & character, delivering another notable highlight for Hamann’s remarkable storytelling ability through the music he’s making.
The IMPLICATION of his comedic style ends up bringing just as much of a smile to your face as this record plays, and that’s a killer advantage to when Hamann’s music connecting with the people out there. Take a song like “Traffic Jam” for example – you KNOW he’s going to be funny…at some point along the way, on any of these tracks, that’s more than likely gonna happen, it’s nearly a given, of course, depending on your own taste & all – but then you like, hear just how damn SERIOUS and like, damn near forlorn and Eeyore-esque a track like this starts out, and it literally makes you laugh out loud. Hearing Dan mute his main swear words like he’s cursing under his breath in his car just trying to navigate his way from point-A to point-B was another massive highlight in the ol’ humor department…anyone that’s ever had a hard time merging before in their life will certainly understand where he’s coming from on this tune. “Traffic Jam” is about as close to fact as you’ll find him from the fiction he normally like to create within – part of me felt like there was no humor here at all, just words I continually related to! Of course I’m kidding…dude’s funny, even when he’s doling out history lessons – but you’ll get what I mean when you listen for yourself – if you’ve been stuck in traffic before at any point in your life, and we ALL have been – you’ll find yourself relating hard to the frustration of the main character trying to just get on with his day here. Musically, “Traffic Jam” is an unquestionable highlight and another huge standout moment for the sheer selection of sound on display and the never-endingly clever ways that Lumbering Grace has pulled us through so many styles & sounds, so willingly without hesitation. Dan’s got the magic, there’s zero doubt about it – he’s the consummate definition of a pure entertainer through & through, and he proves that to you from start to finish on “Traffic Jam.” The guitars on this cut are absolutely incredible…as excellent as the musicianship has been on this record, it’s always tough to wrestle the spotlight away from the words – this cut comes as close to that happening as you’ll find. From the flutes to the congas to the bass, everything is jammin’ here, 100%.
“Watching old reruns until I close my eyes” – you know…if I didn’t know better, I’d swear I just witnessed what has to be one of the best songs on this record…right here at the end…and it’s arguably the most straight-ahead that Dan’s played any of the tunes you’ll find on this album when it comes to the writing. This last song is called “Lullaby” – and like so much of what we’ve witnessed in this album along the way, yes, it’s genius once again – but this time, sincerely in a completely different way than so many of the rest on Lumbering Grace. Dan retains the playfulness & wonder that we love in his music & writing, but does dial back the humor purposely here in this last song, in favor of creating what really ends up being like, a modern-day “Lullaby” that any adult would be proud to have as their soundtrack to meet the sandman with. I suppose that’s what kinda brought me right into this tune…I mean, I absolutely adore the way that Dan sings this…but really, I was actually mesmerized & marveling at the fact that a “Lullaby” of any sort could hit such a solid home run for me. Sure I joke about being born Grunge; but in reality, that’s actually always a factor. Thinking about the fourteen year-old me jamming my Nirvana tapes as loud as my Walkman could take them with the Mega Bass Boost on, and trying to explain to THAT kid that ONE DAY in his future, he’ll grow up and love a nice soothing adult-contemporary lounge-style “Lullaby” – there’s just no way I would have even been able to conceive of traversing such vast terrain to get from one side of the musical spectrum to the other way back then. “Lullaby” gave me both an appreciation for how far that kid has come, and also provided me with a comforting sound that was truly like recalling something from my childhood dreams that I can’t even picture now…like something you know is a part of you somehow, even if you can’t make the entire connection as to HOW it’s always been there. “Lullaby” feels like that. I get it, I know what I said probably doesn’t make any sense to you right NOW…but perhaps it will when you listen…and you’ll get your opportunity soon, I promise – Lumbering Grace is coming out just around the corner from now in the first week of February.
A serious shout-out of approval and high-fives are to be had all-around. No lie, Dan’s loaded this record with so many talented players that it would take another seven pages for me to write them all down here – but know that everyone involved has truly brought their undeniable A-game to every moment you’ll find. One name that has to be cited here, is Julian Martlew, who took on the monumental task of producing a record as varied in ideas, sound, and scope as this is, and nailed it from beginning to end. Quite honestly, I fail to see or hear how this isn’t essentially as flawless of an experience as it was originally envisioned to become…Hamann’s proven to be a remarkable storyteller & songwriter in every conceivable way, and he’s enlisted all the right talent to make every moment of this record stand out.
Listen to music by Dan Hamann at his page at Soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/dan-hamann
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