Art may not always be a reflection of life, but when it comes to Kevin Daniel’s music, it’s pretty close. Yet while he has a newcomer’s devotion to keeping it raw and real, Daniel brings a veteran’s depth of experience and sensibility to the project, along with the writing and performance chops to create and deliver songs that simultaneously give listeners glimpses into his life and insights into their own — and that’s exactly what he’s done with the only somewhat sardonically titled The Life and Adventures of Kevin Daniel, his debut full-length album for Organic Records out now.
From the bold a capella opening of the first track (and first single), “Happy For A While” through the instrumental coda that finishes out the album’s closer (and lone cover), “Singer and the Song,” The Life and Adventures of Kevin Daniel marks a new stage in the North Carolina native’s artistic growth.
Now a Nashville resident, Daniel quickly settled into East Nashville’s bustling music scene, upping his co-writing game, performing in rounds and generally situating himself within a busy circle of Americana-leaning writers and players. At the same time, he huddled with co-producer Jon Weisberger to assemble, between them, a list of favorite players to bring into the studio: a pair of in-demand journeymen and occasional Daniel associates in drummer Logan Jayne and guitarist Patrick French; bassist and co-producer Jeremy Darrow (The Steel Wheels); sacred steel sensation DaShawn Hickman and his wife, singer Wendy Hickman; and, among others, a pair of western North Carolina’s best keyboard players and harmony singers in Kevin Williams (Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters) and Aaron Price. The result? A sound that, even as it maintains continuity with his previous efforts, roots Daniel’s output still more deeply in the country, R&B and even gospel currents within the broad Americana stream.
The intertwined influences are right on the surface of songs like “Feel Like It Should,” which finds DaShawn Hickman serving up country pedal steel flavors and a sacred steel-inspired solo over a rhythm section that chugs along in a classic 6/8 soul groove, while Daniel unspools a painfully self-aware confession:
When everything’s right I make something go wrong
Admit to myself what I knew all along
A beautiful girl with stars in her eyes
Make someone happy but I ain't that guy
You’ll make someone happy, but I ain’t that guy
In the wry and realistic “Go Out,” on the other hand, the singer layers a lyric with the aroma of East Nashville country — "I don’t wanna come and jam with your band / I only play for keeps / Three chords, the truth, / And a D18 is all I need" — over a simmering bed of old-school, horn and organ-led rhythm and blues, while on “Dragging Me Down,” the 6/8 feel returns to underpin a gripping dialogue between Daniel’s pleading voice and DaShawn Hickman’s, slippery, sympathetic, single-string pedal steel.
Indeed, each song, from the agonized “Whiskey With My Maker,” to the is-he-or-isn’t-he-kidding “Drink With You,” to the horn-heavy road lament, “House Don’t Feel Like Home” encompasses just enough musical ground to give its lyric an extra dimension. And whether an arrangement falls squarely into one groove, recombines elements or just changes things up in surprising ways, The Life and Adventures of Kevin Daniel places each in service of songs whose lyrics manage — through vivid imagery, unsparing self-awareness and sometimes brutal candor — to dig into the details of a life at once spontaneous and career-centered while offering sharp realizations that resonate with anyone open to hearing them.
“I have a good life and I am grateful for where I am,” says Daniel. “Part of what makes me grateful is the trauma I’ve experienced on the road to where I currently rest. From being the kid of divorced Jews in a small Christian town, to losing parents at an age where I was really just starting to know them as people, to losing the person I thought I’d marry, I’ve learned to try and be here in these moments and look back on the past as a part of who I am. I can’t say I wouldn’t do things differently, but I can say the music I wrote for this album is a collection of experiences from my years as a musician, as an artist, as a lover, as a selfish man, and as a human being seeking and giving forgiveness. I sincerely think this is my best work to date, and I’m incredibly scared and excited for people to hear it.”
Listen to The Life and Adventures of Kevin Daniel HERE.