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Brother Danielson – Brother : Son

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Brother Danielson is Daniel Smith. This is considered his solo venture from underground oddities, The Danielson Famile. In the early/mid part of the 1990’s The Danielson Famile was one of the weirdest bursts of creativity in music. To compare, a person might mention The Polyphonic Spree or your favorite children’s record from your youth, but that would hardly scratch the surface.

The Famile is actually a family. Daniel Smith is the main songwriter and lead singer, with various siblings helping him out with various back up duties. Later on they “adopted” non-family members for random parts, while keeping the blood siblings as a main focus. The music featured Smith’s incredible, one-of-a-kind falsetto squawk, venturing and expanding the highest possibilities of the male vocal cords while sounding more or less un-feminine. This was backed by an equally harsh acoustic guitar, often used as much as a rhythm instrument then a song leader. Then The Famile backed him on whatever instruments they could play that would fit the song, be it vocals, flute, whatever.

Thanks to the high vocals, most people thought of something a child might do or listen to (an opinion shared by some Pitchfork Media reviews), thus damning The Danielson Famile to the farthest pits of the underground scene, made worse by the fact that they were signed to Tooth and Nail Records, viewed as a Christian label. Non-Christians were uninterested, and the majority of Christian music fans were too busy with Michael W. Smith or MxPx (depending on their taste) to want to acknowledge The Famile’s existence, let alone listen to them. Oh, and The Danielson Famile costumed in uniform nurse outfits, complete with red crosses and funny hats. Not so unlike the more current The Polyphonic Spree.

After four strong records, they signed with indie label Secretly Canadian, who re-released their past albums (I’m assuming they purchased the rights from Tooth and Nail Records) and a new one – and now this branching out.

On the surface, the first assumption is that this will be Danielson without the family. After all, since Smith is the main man in the Famile, losing the family could really the most major change that could be made. Don’t bet on it. The Famile is performing on this album in full force.

The next logical assumption is that this cd will showcase a shift in sound. This is getting a bit closer to being somewhat evident. Now, I have not heard the last Danielson Famile release that was exclusive to Secretly Canadian, so it may be closer in sound than the Tooth and Nail releases were, but there is definitely a sonic bend from The Famile’s first records.

Smith’s high vocals are still evident, though he also uses a “normal” voice in places in many of the songs. He’s still distinguishable, however. There is a certain quality to Smith that identifies him. Except in the start of track seven where he sounds a lot like Jack White when White is singing one of his acoustic ditties.

There is also a lush quality to the production, which is severely lack in the Famile albums I’ve heard. Production wise it feels a lot like Sufjan (pronounced Soof-yan) Steven’s recent classic, “Greetings From Michigan.” Of course, since Stevens is an adopted Famile member, not to mention that Smith produced his most recent album, this should come as no surprise. He adds his familiar banjo wanderings, which fits into the mix really well.

The songs, while keeping that childish innocence, feel more grown up. A lot of this is due to that lush feel, but also to the arrangements of the various instruments that Smith has going through out his songs. People familiar with “Greetings From Michigan” are drawn in to Steven’s timing and layering of sound without letting it become a muddle of sound. This feel is also evident on “Brother : Son.” While perhaps not throwing in quite as many bells and whistles as Stevens, Smith keeps his vision firmly in control. The songs themselves feel very uplifting. Just listening to them can make you stand your frowns upside down.

Any fan of “Greetings From Michigan” should put this on your to-do list right away. Everyone else might do well to direct their browser to www.danielsonfamile.com for some sound clips. Or go directly to www.secretlycanadian.com and purchase the album right away.

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