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Ashley Daneman: People Are Fragile

Dan Bilawsky By

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While solidity and vulnerability are at opposite ends of the strength spectrum, they also exist as two sides of the same coin. All that is broken can be put back together, much of what's whole isn't without interstitial breaks, and the human experience is built around the fluid bonds between the two representative emotional extremes connected to these states. It's this very notion that serves as the foundation for vocalist Ashley Daneman's work.

With Beauty Indestructible (Self Produced, 2015), Daneman ventured into the topic of personal resilience and persistence with great bravery and success. This moving follow-up date flips the focus, using vulnerability as its through line. Across twelve emotionally-charged performances, Daneman explores and accepts the very idea that we each live in a fragile state. And of greater importance, she shows us that visible breaks and wounds can actually serve as a source of beauty. Inspired by kintsugi—the Japanese art of repairing broken items with lacquer mixed with powdered gold or other precious metals, thereby treating the breaks as a shining part of something's being and history—Daneman delivers a program that's accepting of the imperfections we all struggle with and as honest as they come.

Joined by a crack crew of (mostly) Chicago-based musicians, Daneman leaves no stone unturned in her universally applicable self-examination. Possessing a singer-songwriter's sense of focus, a forward-thinking jazz singer's thrill for the unknown, and a perceptive gaze that penetrates the hardest of topic surfaces, she turns songs into fellowships connecting artist and listener. "I Alone Love The Unseen In You," opening on Becca Stevens-esque vocal overdubs before shifting into a slow and soulful 6/8, takes its title ideal into an impassioned realm. "If I Knew Who I Was" bounds along while diving into purpose and meaning. "Shake It All Down," benefiting from Matt Gold's refracting guitar lines and drummer Quinlan Kirchner's country-inflected shimmy, ties into revelations both dark and light in nature. And "The Feeling Of Heavy" supports and frames a masterful handling of life's weight(s) with a sashaying snare-and- bass groove and a tasteful gloss.

While Daneman's songwriting is key to the success of People Are Fragile, the playlist isn't without some ear-catching familiar fare. Turning to Gershwin's Porgy And Bess, she borrows "My Man's Gone Now" and makes it her own through a funky and (briefly) free-floating makeover. And of even greater significance is a pair of spirituals—"Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" and "Deep River." With only Rufus Ferguson's piano beside her, Daneman draws from the recesses of her past and present. She imbues these timeless pieces with a multitude of sentiments. Both prove to be highlights on this most revealing and truthful of statements.

Track Listing: I Alone Love The Unseen In You; If I Knew Who I was; Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child; When You Break; Shake It All Down; Daddy's Gonna Die Soon; Deep River; My Man's Gone Now; The Feeling Of Heavy; Pictures In The Atmosphere; Did Anyone Ever Sow You A Lie?; Recall.

Personnel: Ashley Daneman: vocals; Rob Clearfield: piano, wurlitzer, organ (1-2, 4-5, 8-12); Andrew Vogt: electric bass (1-2, 4-5, 8-12); Makaya McCraven: drums (2, 8, 9, 12); Quinlan Kirchner: drums (1, 4-6, 10); Matt Gold: guitar, lap steel (1, 4-6); Rufus Ferguson: piano (3, 7); Kevin Bujo Jones: percussion (8).

Title: People Are Fragile | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Flood Music

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