Dan Weber has just released a new album. It’s titled The Way The River Goes. But first, for those of you not yet familiar with the artist in question, a bit o’ background.
Weber is an American singer-songwriter currently based in Texas. According to his official website, his rockin’ resume includes a pair of “critically acclaimed CDs, [2012’s] Ash and Bone with the instant classic “Hank and Jesus”, and [2015’s] What I’m Lookin’ For featuring “Oh Woody”, his tribute to Woody Guthrie that rose to number 2 on the Folk music charts.” Weber has also toured the country and is “a rare 3-time finalist in the legendary Kerrville ‘New Folk’ competition. He has also had two “top finishes in the Woody Guthrie songwriting contest and won the prestigious Winfield, Kansas ‘NewSong’ contest.”
Weber’s signature sound is a blend of Americana and folk occasionally tinted with elements of other genres. He lists his early sources of inspiration as “Jim Croce, Harry Chapin, and Gordon Lightfoot.” He said: “One of my first memories is being about 5 years old, transfixed by ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ on Mom’s old AM radio. Fast forward 20 years, I got my first guitar while working off-the-grid as a Park Ranger in Canyonlands National Park. I was alone, 168 miles from the nearest town, so I started writing songs.”
His songwriting is inspired by “a wide range of life experiences: growing up as an altar boy and Eagle Scout; driving a forklift; following the Grateful Dead; doing factory work, mucking stalls, …painting houses,” and even opening a business.
The Way The River Goes
The Way The River Goes is a 14-track album of original material. It is his third full-length studio album and has its roots in 2017. Since then, Weber has gone through a divorce, relocated to Texas, and (like all of us) dealt with the pandemic.
It is a disc with material that concentrates on such themes as leaving and loss, perseverance, and moving on with one’s life. On this release, Weber leads the way on acoustic guitar and vocals, He is backed by an assortment of other artists.
Appearing here is the Truth or Consequences Rhythm Section consisting of Rob ‘Berto’ Stroup (drums and percussion, bass, organ, electric guitar, and harmony vocals), and Michael Henchman (five-string electric bass). Weber is also backed by the Socially Distant Portland Players: Paul Brainard (electric guitar and pedal steel), Kathryn Claire (fiddle), Jenny Conlee-Drizos (accordion), Tim Connell (mandolin), Tony Furtado (banjo and dojo), and David Lipkind (harmonica).
Track by Track
The album opens on the upbeat title track “The Way The River Goes.” Weber’s material draws on personal experiences that make the song both real and more interesting. Whether it be a folk song or something more Americana or something in between the two, it doesn’t matter. It’s a fine start to the album.
The second selection is “While You Were Sleeping.” This one is an early fave of the critics. Here he spins a somehow more moody, pensive song-story that ponders over where train passengers are going with an underlying personal note as well. He is not the first singer-songwriter with an interest in trains or composing music that runs right along with the engine but his contribution to the theme is both tunefully traditional yet meaningfully his own.
The next number is “Ever Since Columbine.” It garnered Weber a win in the 2019 Woody Guthrie songwriting contest. It is an emotional response to mass shootings, and lyrically and musically safely tugs at the heartstrings. One can only hope he truly knows his audience.
“Goodbye New Orleans” follows here. This is a song that has a musical composition that somehow gives it its own identity. Maybe it’s the melody or the touch of accordion. Everything comes together as Weber reveals his feelings for the city in question in a song that has both a sense of local history and a sense of sadness over the post-Katrina place.
“Farewell Maggie Valley” is a sad goodbye song. It sounds as if Weber has not only performed there but also once had some other connection to the place. No doubt writing this one was a cathartic experience.
The sixth selection is “Whatcha Gonna Do?” This one is another upbeat fu track that concerns perseverance. It’s a common theme but Weber seems to be making a personal statement based on experience. (As with all the tracks here, the musical elements do not obscure the vocals or lyrics which should be a requirement for all folk or Americana songs, in your rockin’ reviewer’s humble opinion anyway.)
“Never” is another solid number that seems to focus on a desire to be blissfully unaware of certain things we, as humans, can’t change. Surely, this has a nigh universal appeal as it touches on some common elements of the human condition.
The memorable “Ghosts of Wichita” is not a Halloween song (although you could use that unofficial holiday as an excuse to throw Weber into a music mix for the occasion). In truth, it is more of a reflection on personal loss, acceptance, or both complete with a reference to a little drinking too. No doubt this one was initially inspired while driving through Kansas.
“Somewhere Down the Line” contains an underlying life lesson in it. Could it be a musical metaphor along the lines of “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it”? It might be a musical presentation of such conflicting axioms as “he who hesitates is lost” and “look before you leap.” Whatever it is, it works.
Not to be confused with Cheap Trick’s 1978 single of the same name, this “Surrender” is an original composition. This too deals with acceptance. Weber’s signature sound remains effectively intact as he quiets things down a bit here. This is but one of his songs that has a subtle commercial appeal.
“You Make Me Wanna Dance” is perhaps one of the best cuts here. It is clever and sincere albeit (by his one admission) not exactly historically accurate. On the other hand, his experience (or lack of same) gives him the ability to sincerely express that awful underlying awkwardness of teen love. It’s a fun, stand-alone single that comes complete with a terrific touch of Zydeco. In a recent e-missive, Weber discussed this song.
He said: “I co-wrote this with my girlfriend Lynn McCracken in Cambria, CA. She knew all about asking boys to dance back in high school, while I was way too shy for that. How we rhymed ‘Jitterbug’ with ‘Ernest Tubb’ was a bit of serendipity. I really love the Cajun-style accordion playing of Jenny Conlee-Drizos (of the ‘Decemberists’) on this one.”
“Last Night” provides further evidence of what Weber and his crew can do musically. Sure, while a song about drinking and partying is almost a prerequisite, it is nonetheless both needed and welcome after a COVID lockdown. Maybe that’s why it seems so radio-friendly.
Is “Sun’s Gonna Shine when I’m Gone” another musical message or just meant to show Weber has a common-sense perspective to go with his abilities as a musician? He has a sense of humor about it all, at any rate. This too has a universal appeal in terms of living your best life, and not having regrets as you acknowledge that eventually, life will go on without you.
The closing cut is “Call It A Night.” An apt album endnote to be sure. It’s vaguely reminiscent of an early Jackson Browne song in terms of subject matter but remains his own both musically and lyrically. It is ironic in that while most traveling troubadours have some song about the hazards and shortcomings of being an entertainer, after the recent lockdown it also reveals an actual appreciation for being able to make a living doing what one loves regardless of any downsides. The bottom line here is that those of us lucky enough to pay the bills doing something creative should be happy we don’t have to work at a real job.
Overall, this album will both please his expectant fans and provide new listeners with a good introduction as to who Dan Weber is today. His ability as a songwriter is evident as he easily meshes melody with message in an unpretentious and sincere manner. He is an everyman with a guitar and that works for him. So, check out Dan Weber’s The Way The River Goes before you “Call It A Night.”