Dan Whitaker “I Won’t Play By Your Rules”

Empty Highway, 2023

Vintage Americana sounds by seasoned songwriter.

Dan Whitaker 'I Won't Play By Your Rules' cover artWith 13 albums already under his belt, the arrival of Dan Whitaker’s 14th also marks the transition from his long-time home of Chicago to Austin, Texas, a place he describes where a love for original music is built into the culture’. Certainly, it seems an apt fit for Whitaker’s vintage troubadour style, and the songs on this latest record touch many aspects of roots Americana music, always with a raw authenticity. 

Unsurprisingly for someone so experienced, this record has a certain effortless sound to the recordings, with the instrumentation giving just enough to provide soundscapes which support the songs but don’t overwhelm them. Virtually all the instruments are played by Whitaker himself, with some particularly choice soulful harmonica and twangy electric guitar licks.

There is an old time resonance to the songs which never descends into pastiche; check out the bluesy swing of ‘3am Blues’ or the Roger Miller-like wit and panache of ‘Rainy Night In The Day’; ‘Honky Tonk Waltz’, meanwhile, is exactly what it says on the box, and feels like it could have been recorded in the 1940’s.

He dives a little deeper on tracks like ‘Oh, Cayenne’ and also on the title track, with storytelling that moves into John Hiatt or James McMurtry territory. The song ‘I Won’t Play By Your Rules’ paints the unfairness endured by the worker, who is chained by debts and works hard in thankless, soulless jobs that only allow him to break even. The outbreak of Covid is the backdrop to finding he can work from home, with the initial promise of being out of the rat race – “I thought somehow I’d be more free/ but there’s a chain around my ankle and the goddamn computer is shackled to me”. It’s a cry from the wilderness and ends with a break for freedom: “I’m packing up my tools/ and I won’t play by your rules” – though whether that can be achieved is open to debate. Nonetheless, a stirring and rallying call to the many who find themselves with little hope.

All in all, this is a proper album of quality Americana music, with the lighter moments framing the darker ones to give them more intensity, and worth checking out by anyone who enjoys their music a little truthful and raw.


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