Last year, Daniel Martin Moore and his friend Ben Sollee were concerned about mountaintop removal mining (“MTR mining” to its friends and enemies alike) so they made a beautiful album called Dear Companion and tried to raise some money to fight for their right to
party have unspoiled beauty and unfucked-up ecology in their home state of Kentucky. You might not think an album with that kind of agenda could be understated, but Dear Companion was certainly that and it made me a big fan of both of the dudes responsible for it (I was already a big fan of the album’s third collaborator, Yim Yames, who is better known as Jim James of My Morning Jacket). Somehow though (oh yeah: it’s because there’s no justice in the world), Sollee and Moore did not become instant indie darlings for their daring attempt to do good through song. Though it should be said that their cause seems to be gaining some traction now that a tree-hugger sits in the Oval Orifice (little known fact: tree-hugging is a gateway drug to not wanting to blow up mountaintops and deposit mining waste in water supplies. Come to think of it, reason might also lead a person to the same conclusion).
While cruising the internet for free streaming albums the other night (Bollocks! proudly operates on a budget very close to zero dollars), I came across a new album by Daniel Martin Moore on the Sub Pop blog. It’s called In the Cool of the Day and it’s apparently a gospel record. My first inclination was to let my good friend Jesus review the album, but he was busy buying tickets for Burning Man and trying with every ounce of his remaining concentration to orchestrate a U.S. tour featuring Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, the Future of the Left, and the Screaming Females. This last thing was a specific prayer of mine that Jesus is still trying to answer. I know better than to bother Jesus H. when he’s working, so I guess it falls to me to review In the Cool of the Day.
The idea here is that Daniel Martin Moore wanted to do a gospel album, which makes sense after the depressing subject matter that dominated Dear Companion. But, rather than diligently recreate his gospel favorites, he decided to just play ’em how he remembers ’em. I’m too lazy to do the Googling, but someone must have thought of this before, right? It’s a fucking brilliant idea (can you say “fuck” when you’re talking about a gospel album? Apparently I can), recording spiritual music exactly how you feel it in the moment (I know that, ideally, that’s how all music should be played. It is certainly not how all music is recorded though). Moore penned a few new tracks to round out the record, once again enlisting the help of Jim James and once again turning in an album of irrefutable beauty.
Have I said this before? If so, just ignore it. But if I’m repeating myself, it’s because it’s worth saying: you don’t have to believe in someone’s religion to dig the music. Like Mavis Staples before him, Daniel Martin Moore has recorded an eleven-song statement of his faith that is more about articulating that faith than it is about winning converts to it. By limiting takes and playing the songs from memory, Moore is striving to provide us with a snapshot of his spirituality right now. Judging by In the Cool of the Day, his faith could move mountains (judging by Dear Companion, I suppose he wouldn’t want it to) and whether I believe in it or not, the spirit that moves Daniel Martin Moore enhances the spirit of his music.
Of course, all that spiritual hoodoo-voodoo wouldn’t mean shit if the album wasn’t musically gorgeous. It is, though, and it’s deceptively simple, driven largely by acoustic instruments: piano, banjo, acoustic guitar, and upright bass. The latter is particularly effective on “In the Garden,” where it drives the song right along the border of gospel and jazz. In fact, In the Cool of the Day plays more like an acoustic jazz/folk record that contains gospel songs than it does a standard gospel album, which is another point in its favor.
“In the Garden” is one of the livelier moments on In the Cool of the Day, but the slower, softer songs don’t drag on long enough to bore me. The two longest tracks on the album still fall just short of three and a half minutes; I guess Moore doesn’t remember any really jammy gospel tunes, which is just fine with me. This kind of music works best with strong, sweet melodies and short songs, and In the Cool of the Day pretty much nails those criteria from start to finish. It’s really a great record for January, or at least I imagine it is. There’s been a lot of 80 degree weather here in Los Angeles this week, so it’s kind of like January doesn’t exist. What I really mean is that In the Cool of the Day would be great for putting on while sitting in front of a roaring fire, preferably next to someone you love, while it’s really cold outside. Shit. I really miss Oregon.
Given how unfairly ignored Dear Companion was, it seems safe to predict that In the Cool of the Day will be among the most underrated albums of 2011. But the year is young yet and if you’re reading Bollocks! today, you could put off getting back to work a little longer by heading over to the Sub Pop site and streaming the album while it’s still available there. As I write this, it looks like the stream is up and running. Of course, an album like this is not going to be suited to everyone’s taste, but for those of you who like a quiet, soothing record once in a while (and have the good sense to loathe Kenny G), Daniel Martin Moore has put together something wonderful for you.