Luke Daniels: Old Friends and Exhausted Enemies (A Review)

Release Date: Friday 4th Oct 2019 (Wren label)

Rather belated we begin to turn the page on the new year (and into February!) with our review of Luke Daniels’ fourth solo offering “Old Friends & Exhausted Enemies”. Having been in partnership with the School of Philosophy at Edinburgh University and attended Celtic Connections to perform more than once, we would be expecting a work of contemplation, the mind and literary influence. Is this what we are getting?

Whether they be friends, enemies, young or old, Daniels’ has collected an impressive list of musicians to join him here all throwing their hats in the middle such as Zi Lin Lao, Jenny Hill, Aidan O’Donnell, the Donegal Abbey Singers, and many more. Combine a wide-ranging talent with an album which purports to take influences from English Poetry over the previous 700 years and you either have a pretentious party of twister, or something more fun, collaborative and well informed. It is a joy to announce that we get the latter where the quality of song is paramount and wins out over impulse for needless complexity.

The album is actually a chimera with its different parts menacing you from on yonder hill. It can sometimes be a light affair or something more reaching depending on which track you turn to. Some tracks have some rather murky layers as Daniels plunges into a sea of dirty washing-up liquid searching for meaning within the grease of existence. At other points, such as “Jim Bean and Brown Sugar”, Daniels takes a bouncing voyage into a much sunnier beyond where anything is possible. While the construction of each song is unique, there is the constant that each track you experience is going to say something worthwhile and the soundscape itself will fold and coil around your mind like a perfumed origami paper. Rich in subtext as it wades in a glacial pool of lyrics of the human experience it is an experiential album, one whose sound you can reach out and touch. Let us look closer at the songs.

“Jim Bean and Brown Sugar” is a opal-coloured casual sound that progresses with it’s good-time minor claps, a slight stagger of the feet and a deep supporting percussion rippling throughout. Like a good night out, you cannot predict where it’s beats will fall at first as the bar talk gives way to big thumping string and violin that is dripping with illicit thoughts and heat. We love the night-life pace which is also laidback in character. This is one who those appreciates the dimming of the lights and clinking of glasses as the night oil burns. 

“Officer of My Career” is likewise a warm, inviting and supporting song. The gingery violins make a difference, the piano is awfully bright and instruments cascade all around as Daniels winds his lyrical rope around what seems like a car-side discussion. You can imagine a long drive, and a quiet, humbling of one’s place in life as one encourages another. Moving forward it is a nice addition. 

For the particular folk lovers, like a burst of Spring sunshine, “The May Morning Dew”  emerges with an enticing array of layered strings, percussion and piano in a surprising addition to the album. You can feel the droplets of water starkle through Daniel’s example of quintessential nature folk. It is not just this though, the song bristles with his choral backing that brings a feeling of formal communion to this feature of nature. It teases like a tanuki as it clashes genre, ending up somewhere between Scottish Folk and a sweeping Eastern epic like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. It is a song that can we can get lost in even before the latter dreamlike, waterscape drops with Daniels’ voice being like the wind itself.. 

Another notable entry is “Where We All Must Go”. This is a song that has the hallmarks of an old mountain man amongst the shaking trees, the searing of burning coals and snap of long twigs. Like a few of Daniels’ tracks it moves with the pace of Americana but the road is flecked with delicious jazz influences and a thick layer of interweaving instrumentals that rise out a tar of percussion. Concise and to the point it is the campfire song that doesn’t outstay its welcome. It is almost like the singer is thirsty for the bottle of bourbon being so carefully passed around between great friends. 

The album is a rich treasure. Not merely the warm, fuzzy ambience of a bar in hunting territory, nor the smoky stage where a jazz musician plays behind their symbolic sunglasses; Old Friends & Exhausted Enemies is a highly refined and unexpected product. It is akin to a very good whisky that arises from its base components of water, barley and yeast; hard to envision, but the proof is in the taste (and here the sound).

We look forward to hearing more, and if you fancy something a bit different. Then please give it a go.

Luke Daniels is on Tour! Check out his website to see if he is playing live near you and grab a copy of the album! https://www.lukedanielsmusic.com/

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