Ashley Daneman – Beauty Indestructible

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It’s been a long, winding and sometimes deeply troubled road to this debut, crowd-funded album for the New York-based singer/songwriter. It’s involved chucking her office job to take up singing, getting hit by post-traumatic stress disorder, mental illness and the long struggle back to health via motherhood, divorce, a masters at Manhattan School of Music and a happy second marriage.

Nearly 200 people donated to a Kickstarter campaign to get this album made, and to my ears they made a damned fine investment.

Daneman is an assured singer who has clearly found her sound. It’s not dissimilar from some saxophonists who get a subtly different tone in the upper register, dampened slightly so as not to be shrill. The comparison to Becca Stevens, and maybe Heather Masse too, is a natural one to make, partly because they are all working in an area where jazz sophistication and schooling intersects with the more instinctive singer/songwriter genre, but with repeated listening it becomes clear that Daneman is every bit as individual in her tone and phrasing as Stevens and Masse.

Ashley Daneman

Ashley Daneman

And her songwriting and band sound set her apart from them too. Daneman makes a virtue of using few words and repeating them often. Mostly this works a treat, though she maybe pushes this technique further than it can go on He Loves Me Well (mind you, as an exercise in how many ways you can interpret and vocally treat the same four words it’s pretty much a masterclass). For an undisputed triumph in this technique try the title song, Beauty Indestructible.

Her melodies are really striking, mixing that singer/songwriter style with some unusual directions in line and harmony which suggest to me the finest kind of musical theatre composers – the kind of things Stephen Sondheim or maybe Adam Guettel might do. And harmony is richly used, not just in the instrumentation which involves a beautifully relaxed and warm sounding small combo, with her husband Benje a vital contributor on trumpet, but in her own vocal harmonies which she sometimes stacks up generously, sometimes just adds as a single shadowing voice, but always perfectly utilised and placed.

Daneman has a clear purpose, and it’s not only to make lovely sounding music but also to incorporate a positive “healing” quality to it as well. It’s not easy to make music out of feeling good – the sad songs usually have the edge, though of course one can argue that the blues is also a “healing” music. She has a nice side project to this album which encourages people to add stories or photos which epitomise Beauty Indestructible to her website. She’s not just singing this stuff…

Highlight tracks for me are the funky opener How You Got To Yes, the Gospel ballad Where No One’s Ever Lost and that gorgeous title track, complete with tasty Fender Rhodes solo from David Izard and a vocal hook that will live with you as an earwig for days on end.

Categories: CD review

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