Review by Nathan Emerson
Renascence is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “the revival of something that has been dormant.”The Renaissance was a period of time when a cultural rebirth or reawakening happened by discovering the art of ancient cultures and spawned a “time of great beauty and art” by sparking a new interest and intellectual appreciation.
Mike Daly’s Renascence album reminds me of a modern take of when all the classic pedal steel guitarists released instrumental albums. These guys released jazz albums that would knock the socks off of today’s jazz heads. Check out Buddy Emmons or Julian Tharpe. Some of these cats attempted to push themselves in a time of experimentation and discovery for the pedal steel. The tuning was changing and many people were all sharing ideas, which was different compared to the generation before that kept their tunings secret. Country rock was on the rise and most of these players learned playing Western Swing or Hawaiian, so country music was just something they did mostly for a paycheck. Go ahead and beat me up for saying this but when they played live at weddings, dives, or roadhouses I can guarantee they did not play strictly country. These albums let the artists stretch out while proving their skills and knowledge were not just solely honky tonk. Renascence has the energy you discover when vinyl digging and find an old Flying Fish label album or when a man name Scotty dedicated his life to promoting the steel guitar and personally produced steel guitar albums because he knew nobody else would BUT had to let others hear this music! The pedal steel instrumental album it reminds me most of is Suite Steel which featured five of the most prominent figures pushing boundaries in the 70’s. I’m positive that Mike Daly was inspired by Sneaky Pete and Red Rhodes when he heard that album. Sneaky Pete always rocked some of the craziest licks, and later on Red Rhodes made an album with plenty of FX that the steel probably wouldn’t even be recognizable to a novice. This album collides so many crazy licks with FX and filters that I had to ask Mike what was going on! Renascence is an album that will inspire the next generation of pedal steel guitarists. It is like a present-day version of Suite Steel and features five guests, each of whom play with their own style and push boundaries. It is safe to assume Mike Daly is reviving the art of pedal steel experimentation. This album is fresh and is breathing life into what felt like a void for pedal steel collaboration.
Mike Daly’s Renascence album features everything and MORE that which I yearn for in an instrumental album. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying the advance copy for some time and was sent a few tracks while in the recording process -MOST of these songs STILL melt my face after TWO YEARS! The first track, “Thundershower,” will always blow my mind as it starts with an eerie theremin sounding harmonic that teases and creates unwarranted tension for such a fun song as he immediately starts breaking “rules” of the pedal steel by doing hammer-ons with the bar. He tears down more walls and burns barriers of tradition by playing the pedal steel like an instrument and not a genre. Maybe those eerie harmonics were a warning to drop all expectations and soak in the art. I have to spend some time on “Thundershower” because it sounds like John Scofield learned pedal steel and tried to sound like Frank Zappa. “Thundershower” is a cocktail of fusion and acid jazz with a large dose of prog. rock. By the end of “Thundershower,” new harmonics provoke a dissonance that sounds like springs bouncing, think refined and classy Primus sound.
The second track features the legend Lloyd Green, and I can’t express how refreshing it is to hear Lloyd play in this context that isn’t blatantly country. This is a must listen, especially if you are a traditionalist and on the fence about experimental steel. I can’t give it justice, so please dive into the album for this Lloyd Green experience.
BJ Cole is another legend featured prominently on “Dimming of the Day,” crossing genres with an accordion and the acoustic sounds of the Weissenborn. BJ Cole presents why he has been the primary steel player in European pop music and influenced every steel player who tastefully respects the integrity of the steel while craving to sound like nobody else. That spirit is what makes this album so inspiring and Mike Daly captures it with every track.
Mr. Sacred Steel, Robert Randolph, is presented in an element that is purely acid jazz. Hearing Robert Randolph in this context is insane! Again, just when you think you’ve heard it all, Mike Daly is pushing and inspiring the boundaries of even the players on this project. Robert Randolph is clearly himself being fuzzy and bluesy, but once the solo kicks in full octane, I was hit like the first thrill I had discovered him and sacred steel. Randolph isn’t playing anything he isn’t used to as he gets jazzy, but this solo is intoxicating like metal and jazz fusion. It’s so elegant and insane that it is without a doubt my favorite Randolph solo, including live cuts. The track is called “A Little R & R” and while most pedal steel players would fear holding water playing next to Robert Randolph, Mike Daly isn’t most pedal steel players. This is the kind of song that will create a hunger for many young and future pedal steel guitarists!
Greg Leisz has played steel on so many genres including electronica group Daft Punk. Leisz is the definition of LA cool, so it should come with no surprise he was asked to bring some dirt to spice up the immaculate song “Ryland.” The song is an ambiguous dreamscape of world cultures from Native American, Asian, and Indian textures. This number is cryptic and Leisz brings that extra emotion carrying the nature of yin~yang.
A song featuring no guest steeler is “Andah” and it presents the steel sounding similar to a steel drum pounding like a synth loop The Who would use. It almost sounds like a chamber or baroque esque. There is even a slide mando in the intro. I hate giving away surprises but this album is exciting!
Dan Dugmore and Mike Daly did something amazing here on “Old Friends/Lenny” as they reimagined SRV’s Lenny from a jazzy blues song into an ambient world music trip. It features Mike Daly playing acoustic slide and Dugmore in an ocean of delay and reverb pedal steel that knows how to pull you into outer space. The song is nearly unrecognizable at first, but these two act as shaman guides that turn your world upside before letting you recognize gravity again.
“Fire Drill” is another song Mike Daly does solo and I honestly can’t think, who could make this better. This is a fun bounce that has a rockabilly step but is blatantly Mike as he adds elements of other genre inspirations like jazz.
The last song “Theme for the Lonely” sounds like a lost Pink Floyd track, but imagine a film score getting dosed with King Crimson. I can hear this as an intro to a mystery thriller from X-Files, Stranger Things, or even Law & Order. It is the longest song so it obviously, constantly, morphs, growing to build tension and release. I’d predict parts of this song scattered across several movies if I was a betting man.
I didn’t intend to do a track by track, but all these songs mend the entirety of the album and there are so many guests worthy of mentions,I couldn’t resist. This album is a splendid cornucopia of sounds that lends itself to being indescribable, especially for pedal steel. He uses techniques that make sense for steel but typically perceived for other instruments, like when he flicks his finger across the strings like a flamenco strum exercise. Nearly all sounds are pedal steel, however the bass and drums were recorded live at the same time for that natural feeling. One song, I in particular had to ask Daly about and he answered. “On “Thundershower,” the song was demoed with the steel running through an Electro-Harmonix B-9 pedal. After the rhythm track was recorded, Mike Webb doubled all the steel organ parts on B-3. We then mixed both parts together…and he added the Wurlitzer.” Michael Webb is also the engineer who helped bring Daly’s vision to life. Mike Daly has another instrumental album called Rock of Ages that consists of classic rock songs but done on pedal steel and has his unique twist. I highly recommend BOTH these albums and please push this on somebody young who might enjoy getting a little weird with the pedal steel. But let’s be honest, the only thing weird about these songs is that it is done on a pedal steel and not a regular guitar, but in complete honesty: the regular guitar CAN’T play most of this stuff. It’s just not possible. What is possible, is that the pedal steel can grow, and is this album cements that it is time for steelers to stretch out again and continue to experiment.
The new album “Renascence” is available on all digital media platforms as well as locally @ Grimey’s Records and Steel Guitars of Nashville.