Sub Pop signed Daniel Martin Moore on the strength of an unsolicited, four-song demo. As success stories go, a peripatetic former Peace Corps volunteer from Kentucky mailing a bunch of songs to a venerable record label and hitting the jackpot is not among the most unlikely, but it is a nice backstory for his first album, Stray Age. But all that the story really says is that, as a songwriter, Moore can make a quick impression. There’s nothing about Stray Age, produced by a guy who has worked with both U2 and the Shins, that sounds like the work of a deliberate outsider or that really is all that different from what a number of fellow singer-songwriters are already doing.
Moore has a good, if delicate, voice, and he sings quietly, lowering his voice down to a Bing Crosby-style croon (Tom Brosseau might be a more modern comparison, since they have the same way of subtly recalling older influences). His arrangements are simple and unadorned. The first song, “Stray Age,” is just Moore and his guitar, and the verses are accompanied by a single guitar figure. Other musicians contribute on several songs, including violinist Petra Haden and Moore’s brother, Earl, who plays piano on two songs. On the bouncy “That’ll be the Plan,” propelled along by drums and an upright bass, the guest musicians change the tone of the album, gently interrupting the procession of quieter songs. By and large, however, the production is unobtrusive and Moore, on piano, guitar and voice, does most of the work himself. There’s a single cover song, of Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.” That choice is probably instructive as to Moore’s biggest influences, and indeed many of Stray Age’s most memorable songs hark back to Denny or Richard Thompson-influenced popular folk music.
There’s nothing particularly path-breaking about Moore’s songwriting. He does not experiment much, and unlike, say, Sam Amidon, he does not want to reach back into the history of folk music and recast it. Individual songs, such as the title track or the tranquil “By Dream,” stand out more than the album as a whole. But still, this is a very good album, nicely put together, memorable in parts, and satisfying in its own creative ambitions. As Moore’s story illustrates, that’s enough to get someone to notice you.