Daniel Knox in the shadows next to a carousel. Captures something about his music I think.... (John Atwood photo)
The first time I heard Daniel Knox’s “Ghostsong” I was stunned. It was like nothing I had ever heard, but at the same time it sounded so classic, full of beauty, sadness and mean-spirited humor.
I streamed it over the Internet for a few days, growing more and more addicted and finally I couldn’t take it any more. I went to his website and ordered his whole discography.
That’s something I rarely do — I’m not made out of money. But I could tell right away that I had to get my hands on this man’s music and keep it close, on the off chance it could turn out to be a dream, or something the Internet washed onto my shore that it might sweep away again.
There was more where “Ghostsong” came from. Much more. I now think of Knox as an American treasure, right up there with Tom Waits.
Knox taught himself to play the piano by regularly sneaking into the Hilton Tower’s Grand Ballroom; he took a job as a projectionist at the historic Music Box Theater just so he could play its massive pipe organ. He accompanied director David Lynch in that theater for the 2007 Chicago premiere of Inland Empire.
Much of the time he sings in a deep, masculine voice. Then he breaks into a beautiful, sweet falsetto. His songs range from heartbreaking ballads (often with wicked twists), to brash, New Orleans-influenced pieces that put me in mind of Dr. John.
His songs don’t really sound like anything else. And yet i get the distinct feeling they might’ve been around forever — American standards.
Here’s a taste of what Daniel Knox can do:
I currently have the albums Disaster, Evryman for Himself (technically not released yet, but I was able to get hold of it – send DK a message and he will probably hook you up) and two E.P.s: A Poison Tree and Window Music (Instrumentals 2001-2007).
At this point I have a hard time deciding which I like better, Disaster or Evryman. Disaster is a bit more minimalistic, with those lovely dark ballads, often just Knox and a piano or organ. Those songs really get to me — “What Have They Done to You Now” and “Be Afraid” being particular favorites.
Evryman has some of those — “Ghostsong” being a huge standout — but it also features more New Orleans style songs, with bandmates Paul Parts (bass), Jason Toth (drums), Ralph Carney (horns) and Chris Hefner (auxiliary instruments). “I Make Enemies” and “Debt Collector” are excellent as is “Armageddonsong.” I got to love those too. They might be the ones with the biggest hit potential after all.
The E.P. A Poison Tree is also definitely worth having for the two very different treatments of John Donne’s famous poem.
It’s not all about the music either. Knox’s lyrics have a big impact — sad and misanthropic, resigned and fatalistic, wry and witty, vulnerable to warm feelings — which are seen as a distraction and an imposition…
They might not work for everyone, but I find them brilliant and moving.
Just check out some of the lines:
From “Armageddonsong”: “Armageddon’s comin’ soon. The sun will crash into the moon, but we will still have breakfast…”
From “Lovescene”: “Groping for more than I can hold, sulking like a 12-year-old, and suddenly I find myself dancing. Oh how I hate dancing…”
From “Ghostsong”: “If you die tomorrow or a hundred years from now, there won’t be an article or a furrowed brow. Yours is like the spirit of a breeze that blows through town. No one remembers unless it knocks something down…”
Truly brilliant. I think this guy is going places. If I have anything to do with he will. I haven’t been so excited about a newly discovered artist in a long time. He’s already made it to the top of my own musical Olympus.
If you’re anywhere close to as impressed as I am, check out his website and buy some of his albums. Then find him on Facebook. He just might go on tour one of these days and you’ll want to be ready in case he comes to your town.