Danny Schmidt's first release on Red House records is less a musical debut than an affirmation and establishment of his place as one of the best singers and songwriters currently working in America. His earlier work has been compared to Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt, and Richard Thompson. Instead the Forest Rose to Sing proves these comparisons aren't empty hyperbole.
Schmidt's life has been more of a long meander than a straight line. He was born in Austin, Texas, has worked in a sawmill, lived on a commune, and released two studio albums before deciding to abandon the music business in favor of a career in film and video production. He returned to Austin to begin a new job when he was diagnosed with cancer. Since he was between jobs, minus health insurance, he recorded and released the CD, Home Recordings, to offset his medical debts. Within a year Schmidt was healthy, out of debt, and back in the music business.
Little Grey Sheep, Schmidt's last release, was a simple home recording that included a number of older songs that Schmidt re-recorded for the CD. Instead the Forest Rose to Sing consists of all new material recorded in a more formal studio setting. These songs all combine gentle pathos with simple musicality. "Grandpa Built Bridges" examines human mutability through the lens of his grandfather's history. Several songs deal with economics and how money affects us. Schmidt writes, "Money is a complicated subject. Ultimately, how we choose to relate to the idea of money reflects a lot of about our values." Here's a pithy line from the song "Two Timing Bank Robber's Lament;" "New money smells like vinyl and old money smells like suede..."
Schmidt's vocal timbre reminds me of Donovan's voice; it shares a similarly reedy quality, but with an American accent. But despite his less than classically trained vocal instrument Schmidt's voice is as expressive as any I've heard. Mark Hallman's production and engineering supplies a warm acoustic setting for Schmidt's songs, and although many musicians contributed to the backing tracks, the overall sound is airy and Spartan, with Schmidt's fingerpicked acoustic guitar in the sonic forefront.
Great folk music is all about combining addictive music with penetrating lyrics. Instead the Forest Rose to Sing does just that.