The A-Z rolls around, once again, to the letter ‘D’, which offers a wealth of possibilities. This time, we’ll shine a light on a personal favourite, Danny Schmidt. Texas has produced more than its fair share of outstanding musicians and Austin’s Schmidt continues this long tradition of roots-based excellence. Since he released ‘Live at the Prism Coffeehouse’ more than twenty years ago, Schmidt has been lauded by critics for his songcraft and poetic lyricism.
Back in 2010, the Chicago Tribune writer Rich Warren included him in a list of the 50 most significant singer-songwriters of the last 50 years, holding him up alongside the likes of Leonard Cohen, John Prine, Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Townes Van Zandt. Delve into Schmidt’s extensive back catalogue and it’s easy to see why he’s held in such high regard. His songs are intimate and, yet, universal. There’s a timeless wisdom in his work. In a sense, it’s a simple formula: a troubadour with a guitar and a warm, easy voice shares his intelligent and witty view of the world.
What elevates his songs above the output of most other singer-songwriters? It’s in the strength of the melodies. It’s in the naturalness of his performance, either live or on record. It’s in the lyrics, which are open, personal and profound; the depth of his language and use of metaphor are rarely surpassed. It’s in the range of subject matter and the oblique perspectives: who else would scrutinise love and relationships through the prism of quantum physics (‘Standard Deviation’ – read our Studio Life feature on the song here)?
At his best, as on the 2011 release ‘Man of Many Moons’, Schmidt produces music that is uniquely his and yet feels achingly familiar, like lullabies deep in your subconscious that accompanied you on your journey to sleep all those nostalgic years ago. After ten studio albums, he is proving to be remarkably consistent and 2019’s ‘Standard Deviation’ was released to wide critical acclaim. Here at AUK, we described it as, “A lyrical work of art.”
Danny Schmidt was awarded one of the highly-regarded Kerrville New Folk Awards in 2007. Shortly afterwards, he signed to prestigious label Red House Records who released three albums, including an album, ‘For Keeps’, with Schmidt’s wife, Carrie Elkin. The pair sing one-another’s songs, magically refreshing them; especially notable is ‘Company of Friends’, the album’s Schmidt-composed essential track. Elkin is herself a fabulous singer-songwriter, whose voice is at once tremendously powerful and delicately emotional. Watching the two perform together, as they often do, is highly recommended. With their connection, musically and personally, and their absorption in the music, the listener cannot help but be drawn in.
A deeply thoughtful writer, Schmidt is not afraid to let listeners into the most personal aspects of his life. ‘We Need a Better word’, the closing song from last year’s album, addresses miscarriage, something that has profoundly impacted on Schmidt and Elkin in recent years. Beyond the song, he was able to put his thoughts and feelings into words through a moving essay, published on his website (read it here). Similarly, he has mused on how best to support your favourite artists here.
Once discovered, Danny Schmidt is one of those artists you stick with. An insightful, lyrical storyteller with a gently disarming perspective and an endless stream of engaging melodies, Danny Schmidt’s rich songcraft deserves a wider audience. So finely-created are his tunes that Schmidt makes the complex feel easy and timeless. I urge you to explore his work.
Canon: Ten studio albums, including nine solo recordings and ‘For Keeps’, recorded with Carrie Elkin
‘Parables & Primes’ – includes ‘This Too Shall Pass’, which featured on the popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast
‘Man of Many Moons’ – spare, acoustic gems that feel new but familiar
‘For Keeps’ – recorded with Carrie Elkin, featuring a beautiful re-working of ‘Company of Friends
‘Standard Deviation’ – described by AUK as “a lyrical work of art.” Read our review here.