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David Karsten Daniels - Sharp Teeth

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Artist: David Karsten Daniels

Album: Sharp Teeth

Label: FatCat

Review date: Jan. 19, 2007

The art for this album shows a stick-figurish male chomping on the intestines of a prone female, both surrounded by a serene and starlit pine forest with mountains in the distance. It's possibly a metaphor for an album as lovely and calm as it is primitive and disturbing, depending on the moment.

David Karsten Daniels is a North Carolina-based songwriter with three home-recorded albums to his credit. On this, his fourth and the first with Fat Cat, he brings in a near orchestra of backing players, including a full string section and most of a big brass band. As a result the songs have a way of surging from lo-fi vulnerability to swaggering, full-on baroqueness, then subsiding again into modest porch folk. The opener "The Dream Before the Ring that Woke Me," for instance, has the dreamy aura of a Circulatory System song, as Daniels murmurs the verse “There is a feeling you can't explain / There is a joy you can't contain" over and over again. It starts with just Daniels and an acoustic guitar before building steadily, picking up other voices, drums and violins along the way, until it nearly explodes into mystic exuberance.

Similarly, "Jesus and the Devil," one of the album's best cuts, begins in utter simplicity, Daniels' muttering about his inability to tell Jesus from his wicked alter-ego over a folky guitar strum. Yet as the cut goes on, it turns darker, laced with drunken swoons of trombone and slide guitar. The words, too, evoke a primitive world, a place where gods and devils walk beside us, meet us in our gardens and homes and can sometimes be reasoned with. Though Sunday School simple at times, the words hide a modern sensibility grinning at us sardonically from humorous corners. Daniels thinks he saw Jesus walk on water but as he notes, "it's hard to be sure."

The album is structured in two halves, broken by a piano-only interval called "Sharp Teeth I.” (The penultimate track is very similar and called "Sharp Teeth II.”) And while each half has its religious folk ditties, both also have some very odd cuts that are much harder to classify. "American Pastime," a strident rhythm of a song ostensibly about baseball has the off-kilter, post-everything charm of a Menomena song, despite its down-home subject matter. "Minnows," just after the break, could pass for a Clogs piece for its first few minutes, all whirring insect string sounds and submerged discord. Then suddenly it changes, halting for a big choral interlude. Anyway, the point is that despite his North Carolina roots and his signing to Fat Cat, Daniels is anything but a lonely bedroom folk singer. His canvas is much, much wider than that.

By Jennifer Kelly

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