Testimony to the value of crowd supported artistic projects is the Kickstarter funded debut album from singer/songwriter Ashley Daneman, Beauty Indestructible. Daneman is one of those singers who defies single categories. She is a jazz singer with modern folk leanings, or if you change the emphasis, think Joni Mitchell with a Master’s Degree from a prestigious program in Jazz Vocal Performance. Perhaps the best way to think about her work on the new album is as the best of both worlds. Often her songs are defined by a catchy folk vibe combined with a brave vocal inventiveness that you’re not likely to hear from too many singers today, but a combination in her hands that needs to be heard more often.
Working with an ensemble that includes a foundation of Sam Weber on acoustic bass, Michael W. Davis on drums and percussion, and David Izard on acoustic piano and Rhodes, plus in variety on selected tracks her husband Benje Daneman on trumpet, Matt Davis on guitar, and Amali Premawardhana on cello, she journeys over a set of nine original songs. They are impeccably arranged to highlight her dual musical sensibility. She sings with a bell-like clarity often layered with unexpected harmonies. There are short instrumental solos, but the spotlight throughout is where it should be, on the vocalist.
There is almost a classical purity to Daneman’s vocals. In a song like “He Loves Me Well,” she takes a phrase and works it over, milking its every nuance. Unlike a young lover plucking the petals of a daisy and hoping he loves me, and fearing he loves me not, there is no question about the love of the “he” in Daneman’s song. Of course, that “he” is a pronoun without a defined antecedent. Its ambiguity invites speculation. It is seldom that you come across an artist that can make so much, create so much that is both beautiful and meaningful out of the repetition of a phrase. It is a device she uses again and again, if not quite to the same extent—in the title song, and in “Think on Whatever Is Lovely” which has the feel of a Baroque round—and always to great effect. Words and phrases expand in meaning as they are repeated. The body in “Here Comes a Body” is transformed into soul by the song’s end, perhaps as a result of the growling trumpet solo.
“Where No One’s Ever Lost” begins like one of those standards you can imagine from a half-century ago, and morphs into a spiritual quest echoed by the cello. “This Is Somebody Else’s Piano” begins as a kind of upbeat, jumpy song, with a bit of scat thrown in, but even here a greater depth is indicated as the song proceeds: “These are somebody else’s children, I can only set them free.” What starts as a kind of novelty song turns into something with more heft.
Ashley Daneman’s music is clearly something special—it is beautiful, and beauty is indestructible.
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