Tony Denikos is a new name to me, but this Maryland native has been making records for a dozen years or so, with his previous album having made a bit of a name for him amongst European Americana fans. This new album is already riding high in the EuroAmericana chart, and rightly so. Distilling a whole host of influences into his own sound, Tony Denikos has the songs, the voice, the guitar playing and the musical pals to be as treasured a performer as, say, John Hiatt or John Prine.
Opening with a slow jazzy swing tune that tells the tale of a Vegas wedding that should never have happened, you might think that this sounds pleasant enough but maybe under-powered. I certainly thought so, and was rather hoping that the whole album wasn’t in this vein. Coming back to that song now, I can hear the restraint of someone who knows exactly what he wants to achieve and trusts in our willingness to hang around long enough to get his drift. There is humour, some truth and most of all a deep love of his home region (the song is called High in the Low Country) contained within the lyric and this is married to music making of very high quality. The arrangement is reminiscent of Little Feat but throughout this record Tony Denikos has a willingness to use the gaps between notes as part of his music; so, this arrangement doesn’t have the slightly frantic busy-ness that it might have had; rather it has a tightly controlled restraint – exemplified by Tony’s singing – that allows us space to drift with the music and let our imaginations wander.
All these qualities are apparent over and again as the ten original songs find new ways to carry forward old sounds whilst covering subjects as prosaic as discovering your one-night stand got pregnant , as poignant as being aware of losing your memories (presumably as Alzheimer’s takes hold) to existential stuff about fussin’ and fightin’, wondering what life’s all about and still winding up dead just like everyone else. He’s got a really good voice, singing with an accent that gives him a strong style of his own, and also with a soulfulness that is unusual in this field of music. He can be as intimate and touching as the best folk performer (Tip of my Tongue, the song about lost memories, is as delicate as could be and features some gently wistful accordion that could be lifted from an old Western movie), but he can also build an epic rock song in the mould of Jason Isbell or The Drive-by Truckers. The title song starts with a church organ sound to give us a sense of place, but guitar and drums slowly build toward a mighty conclusion. Probably a little over the top, but marvellously satisfying to lose yourself in.
It’s possible to play spot the influences with this album – and it’s a broad field I think – but mostly I’m left with a sense of a man who makes music as richly satisfying as anyone else out there in the Americana field.
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