LAST MAN'S TUCKER - Danny McDonald (Independent)
Without fanfare, another Danny McDonald album hit the mailbox the other day. Ten songs, all solo acoustic, and the odds are that the tracklist won't trouble the major radio station programmers. But you and I know that's OK. Danny tasted pop stardom a few years back, moved on and hasn't looked back.
The commitments that go with a growing family have more or less tied Danny to his homebase, the Victorian country town of Tararalgon, so any music he makes these days is without a big push and strictly on his own terms. This time out he's chosen to re-visit a few songs he did with a full band, as well as airing others that suit the voice-and-just-guitar format fine.
Danny McDonald's songs occupy the place where still, sun-dappled Sunday afternoons intersect with dark clouds rolling in on a flat horizon. Straight pop, these songs are not. They're ordinary tales of ordinary people, told in a direct, human way - and more often than not with a dark underside.
There's the drunk father who's shot through on the wife and kids and is spilling his guts in some city pub...barbecues with pre-packed frozen sausages...a spate of domestic violence that turns deadly...the snapshot of a morning in a simple, seaside caravan...a breadwinner chasing elusive dollars, way too far from home.
Danny turns a mirror on life in a rustbelt town - it could be his, it could be someone's else - and the truth is reflected, no matter how unseemly or mundane. The musical formula is simple: trademark plaintive vocals, a handful of chords, the odd strong melody and warm, steel-stringed guitar.
This album doesn't rock so much as amble and beguile with the strength of the songs. "Last Man's Tucker" won't be for everybody, but then again the keepers quite often aren't. - The Barman
FIBROTONES - Danny McDonald (Off the Hip)
Thinking about writing a column entitled "When Left-Wingers Attack" after the reaction to Danny talking about "Lazy Dogs" in his recent I-94 Bar interview. The tune's about welfare cheats but drew the ire of one correspondent, who assumed it tarred all unemployed with the same brush. She reckoned Danny had been spending too much time with the demographic loosely referred to as self-funded retirees, which I didn't take as a euphemism for saying his outlook had matured. Ya can't please 'em all.
Speaking of which, "Fibrtotones" should win most fans of melodic guitar rock-pop who like it dished up with an Aussie lyrical flavour. These are stories of semi-rural and coastal Australian life - two familiar topline themes. Also like its immediate predecessors, it's big on variety and hooks with surf and country licks. But "Fibrotones" has a slightly harder edge than "Summer City" or "Into the Sun" (the latter of which came out under the P76 moniker).
Danny's back with a settled band line-up and it shows, with more cohesion and form around the songs. The core of the Fibrotones is bassist Paul Inglis and drummer (and label head) Mickster Baty on drums, but they're supplemented by a crew of accomplished guest players like Ash Naylor (Even), Ernie O (who also produced), Ian Wettenhall (killer harp on the aforementioned "Lazy Dogs") and Paul Thomas (Huxton Creepers) who fit the material like a glove.
"Fibrotones" runs the spectrum from full-tilt garage rockers ("Amberlene", "Lazy Dogs" ) to Neil Young-like ballads ("A Ragged Old Gum"), a raging surf instro ("Sandpiper") and reflective pop ("A Bitter End To a Sweet Weekend Away").
If you're a lyrics fan, you'll find enough of substance to enjoy (or react to) on "Fibrotones". The distinctly Australian-ness of some of the themes hasn't been a drawback for overseas fans in the past, and nor should it be a hurdle this time around. After all, coping with the onset of age or hitting the road to get away from current circumstances are fairly universal in their application.
It's not too much of a stretch to draw a comparison with DM3, the vehicle for Danny's much-admired musical role model Dom Mariani. The pair share a liking for guitar and vocal melodies with teeth. Both are fine qualities in rock-pop he sagely says, being careful to avoid the p*werpop term which is way over-used these days (and for which Pete Townsend should solemnly atone.)
It has to be said that "Fibrtotones" contains no great surprises for established fans of the man since the McDonald modus operandi is well-established, but is a great place to start for those who are not. - The Barman
SUMMER CITY Ð Danny McDonald (Zip/Wizzard in Vinyl)
Guitar pop doesn't get much better than this. What's more, Danny McDonald manages to imbue his songs with local (Australian) references in a way that denote come across as contrived or cloying. This is music about rust belt country towns where weathered faces prop up the local bar, where fanging your van down to the beach as dawn's first light hits the right-handers is your best hope of getting out before the waves close-out.
Danny's formerly singer-guitarist for minor indie chart mentions Jericho and the more recent P76, who have more or less mutated into (or always were) the Danny McDonald Band. Their one and only album was one of the best pop things anyone's heard around these parts in the last few years, so it's great to hear Danny and Co (bassist Tim Mills and drummer Geoff Barnes, for the most part) continuing in the same vein. They're augmented by occasional keyboards from Michael Alonso and the inimitable Mickster Batty (Pyramidiacs, Stoneage Hearts, ex-Crusaders) sits in behind the traps on three songs and contributes vocals to one ("Too Much Fun").
Danny hails from Traralgon, north-west of Melbourne in the Gippsland region, and it's close enough to that city to keep him gigging, in band and solo mode. It's probably fair to say Traralgon's like a lot of Aussie country towns and is not exactly a booming, growing metropolis Ð but Ito an environment that provides solid lyrical fodder.
Danny's blessed with an appealing voice and is no slouch on guitar. The rest of the band are nicely "loose-tight", if you know what I mean, and the arrangements are never done to death. You can apply the term "powerpop" to this disc and although that's not doing it a disservice, it does sell it short. It goes lots of other places, and diversity is a strong point in this instance. "Sandy Harrison" is a twisted country-punk tale of murder and rape that sits a little awkwardly with the rest of the material. "Too Much Fun" is a bouncy garage number while "Mermaid Beach" is a goofy-footed surf romp.
Danny's nothing if not an avid fan of what went before in Australia in the '80s (have we ever called this Oz Music's Golden period?) and draws on those reference points while applying his own stamp. If you're a fan of guitar pop it's probably the hooks that you're here for. Plenty of them in evidence: "Soaking Up the Sunshine" (reprised from the Danny McDonald EP on French label Pop the Balloon) is a sterling opener. "At the Seaside" gets along on the back of Danny's soaring vocal and deft guitar. "Living in Traralgon" showcases Danny's nice landlocked surf guitar. "In the Comfort of a Summerhouse Night" rates well on the ringing chord meter.
But it's not all twanging surf guitars. "An Hour's Drive in a Sandman Panel Van" (a lyric that must have bemused the French) and "Let's Get Drunk to You and Me" fill the ballad quotient nicely. "Since the Old Man Shot Through" closes things on a maudlin note (though with a title like that it was never going to be a rib tickler). HE might have been a prick but it's hard to dislike an album like this.
- The Barman
ON THE BEACH AT FIRST LIGHT - Danny McDonald (Pop the Balloon)
This is Aussie powerpoppers P76 who, paradoxically, were Danny McDonald's most recent band. The story is that Danny went solo and his band went with him. So I suppose P76 is still Danny's band, just going out under his name with him singing and playing guitar. Whatever you call 'em, this is pretty choice stuff, if a little more low-key than the fabulous P76 album, "Into the Sun", which was one of the best pop releases of 2002. "On the Beach..." is already shaping as one of the better EPs of the genre for '03.
Danny writes all the songs and they're good 'uns, full of imagery of sun-filled days and beaches. Just as well Pop the Balloon (the home for this release) isn't parochial because they're French and it was four below zero across most of that country, last time I looked. Then again, maybe they're in the mood for summery songs.
The other point to be made is that these tunes are fairly short: "Soaking Up the Sunshine" clocks in at 1min20sec and is over before it's begun. "Friday Night and "When the Money Comes My Way" are a tad over two minutes long while the introspective loss song, "This House Was Once Our Home", is the centrepiece at four minutes. Still, if you're a fan of Danny or P76 (or his earlier band Jericho who played similar music with less memorable songs) you're going to need this.
"Friday Night" is the poppy rocker, "This House..." the serious tune with the big hook and "When the Money Comes My Way" the pretty acoustic one. "Soaking Up the Sunshine" is a breezy opener, setting the mood without being insubstantial.
There's a certain timeless sort of powerpop that'll always be welcome in the Bar. It's uncontrived, not overproduced and delivered straight from the heart. Guitars help, too. Danny McDonald fits the bill and nods, stylistically, in the direction of the Posies, Sunnyboys and DM3. "On the Beach..." is a good introduction and, I'd suggest, an ideal sampler for the A & R audience. Not that they shouldn't already be circling - there's a new album that should hit the shelves, around the world, midway through 2003. - The Barman
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