Album Review: Dan Israel – You’re Free

Dan Israel

photo by Steven Cohen; photo courtesy of Dan Israel

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Dan Israel: You’re Free

You’re Free is the new album from Dan Israel, released May 2018.

Dan is a talented singer songwriter with 14 albums behind him; You’re Free is number 14. On this album he sings and plays guitars and is joined by a host of great musicians and singers all bringing an array of musical strengths to his interesting and foot tapping songs.

The songs are mostly about the personal, political and cultural crises that he finds in the world today. In Dan’s own words, “Few of the songs offer explicitly political messages, but many are colored by frustration, anger, and concern over the political situation, environmental degradation, and the alienation that often accompanies our reliance on social media.”

Dan Israel - You're Free

image courtesy of Dan Israel

These inspirations have led Dan to create 11 highly accomplished songs, and whilst you may think the dire state of the world these days would lead to a maudlin bunch of tunes, you would be wrong. There is a jaunty juxtaposition to the songs. Serious matters couched in upbeat musical moods. He certainly has a knack for tuneful, contemplative rock.

The production is also rich and creates a very listenable montage of musical layers. A good mix of jangly guitars and keyboards with tasteful additions of the occasional violin, steel guitar, trumpet, piano and percussion. The sonics match the high quality of the songs. I can’t not draw comparison to Tom Petty as Dan’s voice has similar qualities, and the Americana rock vibe is familiar albeit still fresh to listen to. He has brought his own style to what is a well-trodden musical path, and the music is comfortable but contemporary. Lyrically, too, I am glad to say that he doesn’t fall into cliche, and the words are well though-out and engaging.

His musical influences shine through but don’t drown him out. There are flashes of Dylan and Petty and also, interestingly, I found myself hearing bluesy Stones vibes, especially on the acoustic slide guitar groove “Porch Storm” that ends the album. A similar vibe comes through on “Long Gone Dream” and “Soul Will Be Found,” which have a bluesy retro feel, kind of Canned Heat and Beggars Banquet-period Stones.

Dan Israel, Minneapolis 2018

photo by Steven Cohen; photo courtesy of Dan Israel

The album starts a little downbeat with “Gets You Through It” but is sent hurtling on with track 2, “You’re Free.” I always question whether it’s useful to start making comparisons to other artists. Not sure it’s very fair on the reviewee, but on the flip side it is handy for readers to get a feel for whether they will like the albums based on their own musical tastes. So I’m going with the comparison route, and with that in mind I would say that the title track is very Traveling Wilburys, and that can only be a good thing.

There are nice twists on the next song, “Back To You,” with the introduction of violin and a female backing vocal alongside the main voice. Also some lovely Springsteen-esque organ playing and a bright guitar solo.

“Make This Life Mine” and “Stay on the Run” are softer and bring a beautiful acoustic shade to the album, whilst “Feeling Better” and “If I Didn’t Have You” are back in the Tom Petty groove.

It’s always brilliant to discover an album of music that you dig. Quite out of the blue, I am very lucky to have been introduced to Dan Israel and look forward to continuing listens to this excellent album.

The album is available on LP, CD, and for download. You can find out more on Dan’s website, www.danisraelmusic.com.

Looking Ahead

He is a busy performer, and if you want to keep up to date with his live shows, you should keep an eye on the website, but in the meantime he can be found in June playing the following dates:

Thursday, June 14: Dan plays solo in downtown Minneapolis at 333 South 7th Street, a free show outside on the lawn of Accenture Tower, (in close proximity to Hennepin County Government Center, Capella Tower and other downtown buildings) from noon to 1 pm.

Friday, June 15: Dan participates in the Wooldridge Brothers Starts at Dusk album release show at Eagles 34 in Minneapolis, at 8 pm, along with White Sweater, Lolo’s Ghost, and more.

Saturday, June 16: Dan plays solo at the Stone Arch Bridge Festival in Minneapolis, 3:15 pm on the City Pages stage under the Central Ave bridge; earlier in the day, Dan plays a show at 11 am at a family farm, for the Friends & Family Day event at Tangletown Gardens, in Plato, Minnesota.

Friday, June 22: Dan plays solo at Flat Earth Brewing in St. Paul, 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm.

Thursday, June 28: Dan opens (solo acoustic) for Peter Himmelman at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis; the club website lists showtime of 7:00 pm.

Friday, June 29: Dan plays solo at the Trempealeau Hotel in Trempealeau, Wisconsin, 8 pm to 11 pm.

Saturday, June 30: Dan plays solo at Chankaska Winery in Kasota, MN, 6:30 to 9:30 pm.

[Publisher’s Note: Of course, I also reviewed Dan’s last album, Dan, in January 2016. If you’re interested in reading that, too, here’s the link. -GW]

Album Review: Dan Israel – Dan

Dan Israel – Dan

The Backstory

Dan is Dan Israel’s 13th album of originals. He has won awards, written and recorded songs, shared the stage with big name acts, and crafted a musical career that has spanned a couple decades. I first connected with Dan when I was publishing Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter in the ’90s/early ’00s. Of course, I took a dozen-year hiatus from writing about music. When I returned, who was one of the first people to reach out to me? Dan Israel, of course, who had taken no such hiatus; he had been continuing to churn out top-shelf new music while I was away.

Album Review of Dan Israel: Dan

Dan Israel - Dan

image courtesy of Dan Israel

My first instinct when describing a folk singer with a raspy voice is to invoke Bob Dylan, though this album leans toward the Americana end of folk, and if I had to offer you a vocal comparison to Dan Israel, I’d say Tom Petty’s raspy voice is actually more apt. And while some tracks lean significantly folk or a bit more Americana, there are also some serious electric rock guitar riffs on Dan. Dan explores several different elements of his musical repertoire, in fact, producing a cohesive disc with enough variety to sustain frequent listens.

Album-opener “Winter is Coming” feeds my initial instinct, though, as Dan’s vocals fall between Dylan and Croce on this particular track. With judicious use of female accompaniment on this track, it provides Dan with an upbeat, toe-tapping start.

“Be With Me” cranks the energy up a notch, with a melody and vocal growl especially reminiscent of Petty. If I had to single out a track with the greatest mainstream hit potential, “Be With Me” would be it.

Another notable track is “Can’t Believe It,” which draws the listener in with light distorted guitar and an initial emphatic “I…” before blending Israel’s vocal style with an almost “Lyin’ Eyes”/Eagles-ish melody. To engaging effect, I might add.

Dan will have you singing “ahh-ahhh” along with “Lonely Too,” a toe-tapper of a mid-tempo crooner that deftly mixes mildly energetic verses and traveling instrumental bridges with that lower-key-but-hooky chorus.

“Try and Let You Know,” meanwhile, provides a melancholy interlude; here Dan’s vocal expressiveness convincingly depicts the pain in the lyrics, as the song plods slowly, though at exactly the ideal pace for the subject matter.

Also, for a nice change of pace, Dan tosses in the occasional rockin’ country guitar lick (and slightly more frequent slide guitar) on mid-paced “Winning at Solitaire,” giving it a soft rockabilly/country dance hall flavor unique among this collection.

If you’re a folk aficionado, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this album. Dan Israel’s an experienced, talented individual with an inspired new release; the man always delivers. And from the energy of his recordings, you get a sense his shows are probably fun events, as well.

Dan’s Upcoming Gigs

Since I suspect Dan’s shows are well worth seeing, let’s take a look at his upcoming calendar. Listed along the lefthand side of Dan’s website, it looks like he has a few gigs already scheduled in the next couple months in and around the Twin Cities: Tonight, Friday, Jan. 22nd at Public Kitchen and Bar in St. Paul, MN; Friday, Jan. 29 at LTD Brewing in Hopkins, MN; a to-be-announced “mystery gig” on Saturday, Feb. 6th; Friday, Feb. 12th at the Tavern Lounge in Northfield, MN; Friday, Feb. 26 at Harriet Brewing in Minneapolis; and Saturday, March 19 at the Chankaska Winery in Kasota, MN. Of course, check his website for times, links, and additional dates.