Click to hear: “Dupage County”
Dan Knudsen is the Hardest Working Man in Folk Business. A fixture at open-mic nights in downtown Portland for over a decade, he’s released, distributed, sold and promoted five albums of charmingly off-kilter music, two “Best Of” compilations (with previously unreleased bonus tracks), a live album and a tribute album that included covers of his songs by some of Portland’s coolest acts (plus two bonus tracks by Dan the Man himself).
Lost Airways follows 2008’s Outer Space, which was Knudsen’s strangest, and most accomplished, studio album to date. He’d begun to add rudimentary drums and oddball keyboard lines to his acoustic-guitar-based compositions. The aliens, sand creatures and Satanic sorcerers of Space are gone, but Airways contains some of Knudsen’s strongest songs yet.
The album was recorded and mixed by Dominic Lavoie of The Lucid, who adds bass and backing vocals here and there. His sha-la-la’s on the chorus of “Dupage County” are pure gold. Lavoie maintains a light touch. It’s important to let Dan be Dan. But his contributions hint at how great a full collaboration between Knudsen and more accomplished musicians could be.
Two of the five tracks are specifically for kids. The opener, “I Give You This Saturday,” is a pretty and catchy song. Unfortunately, Knudsen, who is the epitome of goodness and innocence, inadvertently makes it come off a little creepy by over-emphasizing the fact the parents trust the song’s narrator to take their kid out for a day. “They say it’s OK for us to play / as long as we do it right, in the appropriate ways.”
However, Knudsen’s quirky wordiness makes the ditty “Play Keyboards” a winner. “Join a band on synthesizer playing jazz, rock or soul / Then it becomes more progressive, like mystical heavy metal,” one verse begins. “Before you know it you’re nominated for a Grammy Award / Just forget about all that macho stuff and shut up and play keyboards.” For the chorus, Knudsen repeats the song’s title until the words go rubbery and lose their meaning — you begin to think he’s singing about some weird new kind of lumber.
Knudsen really stretches out on the inspirational “We All Make Mistakes,” the other kid-centric song. He goes for broke on a tricky bridge and just makes it over. The title track is a pleasant little number about plane travel — an experience that sorely needs some positive perspective.
If only the skies were always this friendly.
— Chris Busby
For more on Knudsen, check out danknudsenmusic.com.