Danny Newcomb “Mackerel Sky” (Rock Candy Mountain, 2020)

Musician Danny Newcomb’s latest album sees him coming from an unusual perspective for someone whose life has been dedicated to rock ‘n’ roll: raising children, and sheep, on a farm on the pastoral Vashon Island. It’s an interesting shift for a man whose earlier career saw him be part of Seattle rock bands Goodness and The Rockfords (the former of which even featured guitarist Mike McCready who, as part of Pearl Jam and Temple of the Dog, scores 10/10 as far as 90s grunge credentials go). But this isn’t a rock record, it’s softer around the edges, touching on folk, and it sees Newcomb using his place of relative solitude to look inwards and examine the human condition.

‘Save Me Like Wine’ strikes a wistful tone, with Newcomb asking if someone could keep and cherish him. “Love can’t find you / So love won’t bind you now,” he insists on the chorus, before later pleading: “You can say that I’m crazy, say that you might be / Tell me you’re lonely, won’t you be mine.” ‘Tonight Forever’ is all about banishing fear and taking chances, and it offers up some beautifully poetic lyrics to illustrate it. “Maybe you’re just a shadow / Tired of being scared / Ready to leave your body like a bird from a house on fire,” sings Newcomb against a jangly acoustic background. ‘Dawn in Japan’ strikes a similar tone, encouraging to start anew: “So you and I dream at the ragged edge of the West / In just eight miles we’d be swimming in the straight / Following the sunsets to the dawn of Japan / Don’t you want to start again,” Newcomb encourages against sparse piano.

‘Golden’ is a classic piano ballad that would fit perfectly into The Beatles back catalogue; it features lilting vocals from Newcomb that blend into soothing harmonies, giving a warm and nostalgic feeling that’s perfect for a song about memories from an idealised past. ‘Chase the Dark’ was originally written by Newcomb about a friend who was struggling with a terminal illness, but he had admitted that with the lonely, compartmentalised “new normal” we now find ourselves in, the song fits well the notion of following your heart to find the light (“Chase the dark, let it break what you know / It’s always lighter with the dawn”).

The title track finds Newcomb reminiscing over the soul searching that’s done as a youth in an attempt to answer all of life’s questions: “We were all just boys under a night sky / At five am when the fire just died / Taking my time back then / When I could find the truth.” ‘Last One Standing’ sees Newcomb wondering what went wrong in a relationship and who was to blame (“Am I the one who couldn’t change? / Love tries to keep us all the same”).

‘Brighter’ is a song very true to its name: optimistic and uplifting, with lyrics that mesh perfectly with the spangly guitar work (“Rainy streets, well I don’t care / When we shine, we shine better / Brighter / Together”). ‘Fade to Blue’, belying with its tone of musical optimism, is a familiar tale for anyone drawn to the darkness: “Color me happiness / The pinks and reds I like the best / But I fade to blue / It’s who I am.”

While Newcomb’s heavier earlier influences aren’t always so apparent here, what is is his veteran musicianship, which can be felt in the tapestry of experience he draws upon. “Being alone is still being alive,” he reminds us on the final track (‘Long Shot’), words that, just like much of the rest of this well crafted piece of work, will strike a chord with anyone struggling in the world we’re living in right now.

An introspective collection of songs with poetic lyrics that have a universal human story to tell

About Helen Jones 135 Articles
North West based lover of country and Americana.
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