With his background and musical pedigree, the music on Jason Daniels’ self-produced debut album could’ve sounded like a lot of things. Brothers George and Paul Richey were his uncles – both well-known figures in the Nashville music scene. George was, in fact, married to the legendary Tammy Wynette – and there’s nothing like riding on your aunt’s big ol’ Silver Eagle tour bus to get a young lad’s mind a’spinning about what he wants to be when he grows up.
Combine those Nashvillian influences with a childhood spent in CA’s Napa Valley (exposed to everything from psychedelicized jams to Marin County country rock) and years of travel that bounced from European adventures to crashing on Bob Weir’s couch … you couldn’t help but gather up a wild and powerful array of influences to tap and stories to tell.
Jason Daniels has channeled it all into music totally his own – a blend of rock/soul/blues/jazz/country with a classic Muscle Shoals vibe as its backbone. In fact, regardless of all the people and places documented in Daniels’ bio, the name that comes to mind when listening to Dashboard Visions & Rearview Reflections is that of the late Eddie Hinton. Years ago, Keith Richards used to lug a copy of Hinton’s Very Extremely Dangerous album in his satchel to turn friends onto; the Drive-by Truckers paid tribute to Hinton with a cover of his “Everybody Needs Love” on 2011’s Go-Go Boots ; he played on sessions with everyone from Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin to Boz Scaggs and Toots Hibbert.
Jason Daniels has captured the essence of Hinton’s country soul and combined it with flecks of flavorings from his own experiences: the result is some powerful music that sets damn easy on the ears while giving your heartstrings gentle tugs.
The album’s mood is set immediately with “You’re An Angel”: thick, buttery horns lay down the tune’s hook while the bass (Jason Kott), hand percussion (Jeff Boggs) and drums (Jeff Fowlkes) burble along; Daniels launches sweet little riffs from his guitar that blend nicely with Peter Keys’ lush B3. You’re already settled in with the windows rolled down by the time Daniels’ begins testifying ‘bout the woman who’s saved him with her presence. There are no superheroes or heroines in Daniels’ tunes – just real folks with real hearts and souls – which it keeps it all real. By the time Daniels hits the song’s bridge (with lovely background vox by Barb Paugh), you know what the score is – and if you had any doubts, Doug Thomas’ sax solo that follows signs, seals, and delivers the deal: this is how you wear your heart on your sleeve in the coolest of ways.
“Take Me From The City” does just that with a legs-dangling-off-the-tailgate bounce; “Riding Back to Memphis” takes that rhythm to a totally different place, chugging along beneath a full moon with hellhounds not all that far behind. (Pay attention to Kott’s big-assed bass thumping up against the spiraling keyboards on the outro – that’s some kinda nasty right there.) “I’ve Seen The World” name-drops Tom Waits and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott as it stomps along – and for good reason.
Saxophonist Thomas arranged the horn parts that he, trombonist Diego Vasquez, and trumpeter Fredrick Weathersby lay down on the opener and two other tracks. The trio provides support on “Actions and Consequences” while Daniels explains just how things work (there’s always time to reflect when you’re sitting in a jail cell); on “Deaf Smith County” the horns step in at key moments to underline a phrase or emotion. Both those tunes feature tasty (and tasteful) guitar breaks by Daniels that serve the songs’ stories well.
“Wide Open Spaces” is big and bold, but as real as a flannel shirt; “Early In The Morning” features some fierce picking swap-offs between Daniels and guest Kenny Olson; and the long glide halfway through “On The Hwy” allows the band to simply grove and jam for a bit (one could easily imagine some fine explorations in a live setting).
When Barb Paugh isn’t joining voices with Daniels, Mary Richardson is. Her vox on the album-closing “Traveling Song” adds the perfect touches of real-as-hell beauty and smiling weariness to take things home. “Get to know your country before it falls,” advise Daniels and Richardson. “Go on out and see it with your own eyes.”
Tell you what: if you can’t get out and roll for yourself, Jason Daniels’ Dashboard Visions & Rearview Reflections will take you on a pretty good trip, all on its own.
Brian Robbins sits mending his flannel shirt over at www.brian-robbins.com