Dan Blakeslee’s new record ‘Owed to the Tanglin’ Wind’ was recorded in the eaves of an old, beautiful theatre in Providence, Rhode Island. I don’t think any record could genuinely illustrate that fact quite as well as ‘OTTTW’. The songs on this record bring you to that place. The environment that these songs were birthed from seeps through the sounds and textures and the stories told on this record. It truthfully is a thing of brilliance. Blakeslee could be any one of the characters he paints within one of his songs. He is such an animated and brilliant character himself. The sounds and lyrics are truly an extension of him. I know Dan pretty well, so maybe it’s just me and people who know him, but I can feel him and the beauty that is his soul in these songs. They are warm and inviting and want you to take a seat right next to them, curl up and listen to the tales that are intricately woven from the thread of old red velvet stage curtains and broken-in leather theatre chairs. So take a center row seat, you don’t need an aisle, because this is a show that you are going to want to sit and listen to for the duration.
I have had a soft spot for the song ‘My Lightning Valentino’ since the first time I heard it. Dan told me the story behind the song one late evening at The Plough and Stars outside of Central Square in Cambridge and it left me speechless. There is something remarkable about a songwriter like him that can take a story that he had overheard, asked to hear the rest of, and then created such magic from it. There is a cleverness to this ingenious ability to create from thin air and have that creation be so outstanding. The rise and fall of the chorus and how it rolls out like a wave just works. It excites me and then eases me down to listen to this track.
“Sleepwalkin’” is a song that we shot a video for in Dan’s living room…and Dan’s vocals and guitar are duplicated pretty much to a T on the record as he played in the recording session. He is a consistent player, that is for sure. The guitar on this is really something. It is perfectly planned turmoil. His playing style is just incredible to me. His voice on this particular track is also something that just wows me. It has a haunting splendor, a dreamlike state. Which I suppose is really fitting given the song’s name!
Another song/story that is a great one is the tale of the “Tattooed Man and the Saint”. Another story Dan has told me outside of song…sitting on the top of Fort Adams with friends at the end of another Newport Folk Festival. Songs about people that I actually know. It’s easy for me to latch onto the track and the words that are flowing out of it, but he has such a way that you can imagine your own characters in their stead. This is a particularly moving track for me as it paints the picture of a place I have been, a story I know, and a feeling that I love.
(here is where you insert your favorite lyrics from this record. I truly cannot choose just one, because every story, every line that Blakeslee writes is so well thought out, so poignant, so wonderful)
The music here kind of takes on a life of its own. It’s like an ivy vine creeping up the side of a brick building, burrowing into nooks and crannies here and there, but flowing outward and up. There are many layers here. Some almost secret and hidden that you really have to listen in close for, like one of those Eye Spy or Hidden Items book from your childhood. It makes the experience all that more enjoyable and you hear something new with each listen. There is a charm to the songs. After “Along the Mystic” you hear “you will know when it is time to turn the page when the chime rings like this”…its little things like this that make this record so unbelievable and charismatic. I can picture someone finding the vinyl of this record in a bin in some futuristic thrift store in a time where you can stream music directly into your head. I see that person being taken back to a time, being enchanted and delighted by the music. This is a record that will stand the test of time and captivate people for years to come.
The record by definition I suppose is “songwriter” driven. The common thread throughout all of the tracks are Blakeslee’s charming, warm and friendly vocals and his somehow juxtaposed playing style that is seemingly chaotic at times, but flawless and adds so much to the feel and vibe of his songs. He plays some of the most interesting acoustic guitar that I have ever heard. This is not just a record or a work to merely listen to. It is a full blown visceral experience. It makes you feel, emits emotion, it is powerful and beautiful. This is how music should be and what music should do to you. I know more songwriters that I can shake a stick at and have listened to hundreds of them, I can probably count on one hand the songwriters whose songs infuse these feelings in me. Dan Blakeslee is one of those digits. Perhaps it’s just the “Being that is Blakeslee”? Perhaps he has some supernatural power to inject you with feelings of wonderment and joy? I don’t know what it truly is, but I am damn glad that it (and he) exists.
You can go ahead and add this to one of my favorites of 2014. That you can be sure of.