Thursday, February 03, 2011

Daniel Martin Moore: In the Cool of the Day

Daniel Martin Moore
In the Cool of the Day
Rating: 2.3/5.0
Label: Sub Pop

In the Cool of the Day is primarily a collection of old American spirituals and gospel songs. Those few readers who actually have an interest in that stuff and are still reading already know that it's difficult to both record definitive versions of these songs and to make them resonate with a broad audience. For more than a few listeners, such songs might seem well past their expiration date, as neither their home-spun, quaint arrangements nor their frequently bizarre iconography are readily accessible in these hyper-modern times. Musicians of various calibers have attempted to make such songs matter to contemporary listeners and failed miserably; even masters like Cash and Dylan have periodically struggled to breathe new life into these songs.

Little surprise, then, that Daniel Martin Moore's latest album is merely serviceable; it won't launch a renewed interest in the music of this country's past, but to be fair that likely was never Moore's intention anyway. Cool is, quite simply, a politely conservative and almost immediately forgettable album in which the artist covers a few traditional songs, provides new lyrics to another and offers several new songs in a traditional vein. Anyone familiar with either Stray Age or Dear Companion will know what to expect here, as Moore never really deviates from those previous albums' blend of folk and Americana, as both he and his backing band utilize guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin and other instruments to keep these songs well within a definite comfort zone. The album's greatest strengths can be found in the four songs written by Moore - "All Ye Tenderhearted," "O My Soul," "Lay Down Your Lonesome Burden" and "Set Things Aright" - all of which speak to his talents as a lyricist and his ability to draw from both the themes and styles of the past without simply mimicking them (even if the song titles border on being a little too derivative).

But Cool is nevertheless bland and lifeless, nondescript in both its vocals and instrumentals and respectful of the source material to a fault. It's a trap that claims its fair share of victims - how does one adequately interpret these songs without making them sound overly reverential? - and it snares Moore throughout much of the album. The singer adds new lyrics to the Grayson/Whittier composition "Dark Road," a needless update on a song that doesn't really need to be tampered with. And so we're essentially called to worship at the altar of our musical heritage, as Moore and company academically perform oft-covered traditionals like "In the Garden," "Closer Walk with Thee" and "Up Above My Head" as well as the fairly obscure "It Is Well With My Soul;" dating from sometime in the 1880s, it's the oldest song included on Cool.

The album's prospects brighten, however briefly, with Moore's version of fellow Kentuckian Jean Ritchie's "Cool of the Day." It's a rare standout moment on an album whose greatest sin might be its ordinariness. No sane listener expects Moore to wildly reinvent these songs, but some sense of adventure would have counted for a lot here. Instead, we're left with an album that aids in the cultural preservation of old songs, and little else.

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