What is "Carl Daniels & The Black Box"? The title invokes mystery: when a plane goes down in the middle of the ocean, the black box may hold the answers. When I asked what it meant, Carl told me that's just how he sees this project. Usually he's just one man with a guitar, but now that he's working with Rustic Justice there is a new element in the mix; he calls this unknown variable "the black box". With experienced producer Mirk expanding and transforming his sound, Carl goes into the recording booth with his vocals and his six-string, and he comes out supported by what sounds like an entire band.
What emerges sounds very different than Daniels is used to, but that's not a bad thing. The release of the Carl Daniels & The Black Box EP heralds the birth of something new; it's six tracks are a crash-course tour-de-force that touches on a wide range of sounds that currently occupy alternative radio.
The single and the first track on the album, “The More” comes in right away with bells chiming to an irresistible beat, announcing the arrival of a new indie epic that follows in the footsteps of Edward Sharp & The Magnetic Zeros, Of Monsters and Men, and Mumford & Sons. You can't help but bob your head along to a song that sounds like you've known it your whole life. The swinging beat and the simple sincerity of the vocals gives me some of that same joyous feeling I get listening to T Rex and other glam rockers.
“Chasing the Ghost” and "Lovely Lovely" have that foot-stomping honesty that people love so much in bands like The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons. The haunting, hair-raising backup vocals carry over onto the third track; "Teeth" offers the image of being of being bitten, perhaps eaten by the world. With lyrical tenacity Daniels questions the suffering we all must endure from simply being alive. What starts as a creepy, slow dirge picks up halfway through with a gospel beat, once again keeping you guessing. Like most of Daniels' work, this is more than a pop song; it takes you on a journey, if you let it.
"No King No Crown" features Mike Thornton’s wailing electric blues guitar a la B.B. King, and is a statement of empowerment "I don't gotta be no king and I need no crown." This continues the message from "Teeth" that resonates through the entire album: at the core of things, you must rely on yourself; your happiness is your responsibility. For placing this encouraging message within a flurry of otherwise melancholy images, I must say thank you, Carl, for throwing us a bone.
The last track, "Drinks With Chinaski" is probably my favorite of the bunch – And it's not just because I was invited to experience the open, creative environment of a Rustic Justice recording session by jumping in and laying down the organ! The lyrics read like a hazy bar scene out of Bukowski, and the music goes through distinct sections: starting with a jazzy groove, exploding halfway through into a passionate outburst, and then holds that intensity at a fever pitch until nearly the end of the album, finally releasing you with a few sultry measures of bossa nova, like a flame that burns bright and then extinguishes gracefully as its last bits of fuel turn to purified, white ash. The romantic bar scene invoked paints another beautiful portrait of pain and angst. But if you think Daniels sounds like just another whiny hipster, give it a closer listen. In almost every image of angst, there is a hidden golden nugget of salvation, just waiting for you to pick it up.
One of the things I truly love about Daniels' music is how dynamic it is; he takes the simplest building blocks of music and with them he weaves a winding story. His songwriting stands on its own; catch Daniels playing guitar at any bar or coffee house and you'll see a crowd enchanted. Let the same crowd listen to the same songs done with The Black Box, and you may see them boogie down. I suggest you pick up the EP and do the same.