Danny Ross – One Way
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: Oct. 12, 2009
The rigors of being a touring musician are often insurmountable and suffocating, but what Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Danny Ross strives for is truly awe-inspiring. A congressional staffer for New York-based politician Jerrold Nadler, Ross is by night, a Manhattan-based singer-songwriter, who churns out piano-fueled pop-rock. Inspired by the likes of Elvis Costello, Ryan Adams, Ben Folds and The Beatles, the 25-year-old released his full-length debut One Way in Manhattan's historic St. Mark’s Church with a 15-piece backing band, including both horns and strings. If that sounds awfully ambitious, well then, you just don’t know Danny.
While studying at Cornell, Ross flew across the Atlantic and honed his piano chops at London’s Goldsmith College, carving his way to a dual degree in the self-created Popular Music Performance and Composition as well as political science. Upon returning to the States, he penned what would become One Way, and presented the album as his senior thesis, a project that allowed him to graduate summa cum laude. And now, three years removed from college, and with a more defined vision and creative re-arrangements, One Way is released to the world. And man is it something.
From start to finish, One Way, is an incredibly enterprising listen. The album begins with the wistful lullaby, "Sleepy Dream," featuring an armful of Ross' falsetto and a chilly piano line. Wintry and woozy, it's a surprising start to a disc but is not without its charms. Ross is blessed with a captivating voice that is at times quavering and creaky and other times guttural and forceful. His impassioned croon can both be graceful and aggressive, and each of these traits are felt at various points throughout the disc.
From the cinematic sweep of album standout "Waiting on the Wheel," to the forlorn lament "Forgive Me Love," One Way has a panache and flair that is supremely self-assured, incredibly arresting and 100 percent authentic. On the pleading ballad, "Stay Here With Me," a duet with singer Joely Pittman, Ross sounds both sincere and empathetic, and anyone who has ever grappled with the demise of a romance can find some resonance in its wise-beyond-its-years tenderness.
Other album peaks include the bouncy piano zest of "Oh, Christine," and the brassy romp "And the Trumpets Sing." Ross puts away the piano on the acoustic roots of "Always On My Way," a travel vignette that seems to be inspired by the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Some musicians can flounder without their trademark instrument, but "Always On My Way," allows the singer to prove his mettle and the results are certainly worthy of praise. Returning to the piano on the frenetic bounce of "This Is Just a Test," the impassioned vocals lend themselves well to the song's triumphant chorus.
Though the alt. country sendup of "Woman," has its charms, most notably an indelible guitar line and a winning hook, the end results are somewhat satisfactory. That similar sentiment can be said for second track "Country Wind," in which Ross' vocals seem to be drowned out and his conviction barely felt. Title track and album closer "One Way," also suffers from a sonic overkill, as in, there's so much going on and Ross' vocals struggle to get by, the entire exercise just comes across as someone trying too hard.
While his intentions for recreating the Wall of Sound production are worth merit, there are times it can be a bit too much. The title track is proof of this as is the stellar "Go," which draws a lot of its inspiration from Rufus Wainwright's Want albums, but then yields to a Sergeant Peppers-like swirl of sound. That musical footnote is something Ross places at the end of nearly every song. It's a nice idea, but at times it does get a bit tiring. That being said, these are all small barbs and do little to lessen the enormity of what is at work here.
Whether or not Ross quits the political day job remains to be seen, but if he chooses to, there's a welcome place for him in the annals of singer-songwriterdom. One Way is a compelling, confident and creative masterwork from one of New York City's most promising young talents.