I’ve been reviewing Danny Michel albums almost as long as he’s been making them. And if he’s made a bad one, I haven’t heard it. So along with reviewing his latest EP White & Gold, I thought I’d go back and revisit some of the other reviews I’ve written about him over the centuries. If you haven’t heard any of the albums below, I recommend you remedy that situation ASAP.
White & Gold (2018)
Danny Michel covers plenty of ground. Over the past few years, the Canadian singer-guitarist has recorded everywhere from Belize and Costa Rica to Morocco and a Russian ice-breaker. Far as I know, his latest EP White & Gold was cut in the far less glamourous locale of his Waterloo home studio. But what it lacks in geographical variety is more than made up on the musical and lyrical sides. As usual, the eclectic one-man band follows his creative muse wherever it leads on this six-cut set. And as usual, it takes him on some colourful journeys and scenic detours. Over the course of 24 fast-moving minutes, Michel delivers gently sizzling roots-pop; African-influenced percussion set to spiky guitars; updated doo-wop vocals; slashing 5/4 synth-and-guitar rock; acoustic slow-burners and campfire songs; a reworked oldie; and lyrics that range from personal tales to tributes to school-shooting activists. All of it is penned, played and produced with the same skillful craftsmanship and engaging sincerity that have been his signature for nearly two decades now. And that will doubtlessly continue to serve him well in the future — no matter where his musical and cultural wanderlust take him.
If you love White & Gold, good news: There’s plenty more where that came from. Here’s what I’ve had to say about some of Danny Michel’s other albums over the decades:
In the Belly of a Whale (2001)
Without a doubt, In the Belly of a Whale — the fifth album from the former Starling member — is one of the most alluring and wonderful indie-pop albums to come down the pike in ages. Michel has a whimsical, bouncy roots-pop songwriting style, a sweetly rough sandpaper voice, a smooth way with a melody and a snappy way with a lyric. All of which he magically blends into 14 jangly, laid-back musical gems that drift, swing, bounce and zip merrily by, combining the finest qualities of The Kinks, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Rheostatics. If you really want to hear Canada’s finest pop songwriter (sorry, Ron Sexsmith), buy this CD today.
Tales From the Invisible Man (2003)
The title track is supposed to be about unrequited love — but Michel could just as easily be talking about his career. The singer-songwriter has long been quieting issuing superb albums of gloriously constructed indie-pop into an uncaring world. With any luck, this beguiling full-length will finally turn the tide. Offering precisely an hour of winsome melody, crunchy pop hooks, smart lyrics, singalong choruses and traces of Neil Young, Tom Waits, Hawksley Workman and Paul Westerberg, these dozen slices of basement-studio alchemy will leave you marvelling — at both his impressive talent and his inexplicable lack of visibility.
Loving the Alien (2004)
Michel is probably one of the greatest songwriters you’ve never heard. Which makes it interesting that on Loving the Alien, he celebrates one of the greatest songwriters everybody’s heard: David Bowie. But this isn’t some exercise in slavish genuflection. On many of these 11 cuts, Michel wipes away the sequins and gloss of Bowie’s glammy approach, the better to behold the natural beauty of the Thin White Duke’s melodic craftsmanship. Young Americans sheds its funky duds for the comfy clothes of lazily shuffling folk-blues; Ashes to Ashes is reborn as a woozy acoustic-guitar strummer, and so forth. And along the way, we get new appreciation for both Bowie and Michel.
Every time I hear a new Michel album, I ask the same question: Why isn’t he rich, famous and beloved by the masses? Valhalla made me ponder that yet again, with no solution in sight. The singer-songwriter’s criminally low profile certainly doesn’t result from a lack of talent or ability. As usual, this mellow and homespun dozen-track offering contains more than its share of eclectic, exemplary tunesmithery. From the Paul Simon roots-pop of White Lightning and Tennessee Tobacco to the blue-eyed soul of Midnight Train and the Tom Pettyish rockers Save It and The Valley of Doom, Valhalla is every bit as heavenly — if nowhere near as Nordic — as its title would suggest. It may not make him rich and famous — but it oughta make him beloved by anyone who hears it.