david karsten daniels and fight the big bull i mean to live here still
  • MONDAY, JULY 26, 2010

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Literature majors rejoice! I Mean To Live Here Still, the new album by David Karsten Daniels and Fight The Big Bull is the most successful musical adaptation of a poet's work since...well...Cats?

Daniels has taken the poetry of the 19th century transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau and shaped it into song form. Presumably, Walden, Thoreau's best known work and a touchstone of the environmental movement, just didn't have the rhymes. Though he wasn't best known for his poetry, Thoreau's lines have a youthful earnestness and a rhythmic pulse that may have seemed unimaginative in his time, but translate gracefully.

The album works best when Daniels keeps it simple. The strumming of an acoustic guitar, an easy, loping beat and a structured bed of horns help deliver "The Funeral Bell" squarely into the territory explored by The Band. The melody of "October Airs" and accompanying pedal steel recalls another mix and match project, Mermaid Avenue, by Billy Bragg and Wilco. Though I Mean To Live Here Still, doesn't reach the heights of that late 90's landmark, you've got to give Daniels a few bonus points for adapting the work of a poet, as opposed to an already legendary songwriter, Woody Guthrie.

Fight The Big Bull, Matt White's nine piece jazz group, bring a gutsy and determinedly sloppy vibe to the proceedings, mucking up what might have been an arty lab experiment. There's a little bit of Mingus and a lot of Dixieland and second-line clatter that helps create a sound that this record shares with nothing else currently out there. At times, when Daniels runs out of couplets, the band is left to flail about for a few minutes, which even though it's funky as hell, still feels a bit tacked on, like the Afrobeat stomp at the end of "On Fields." But when The Bull reign it in a bit, like on the album's most integrated track, "Though All the Fates," the results are exhilirating. It's also a thrill to hear so much earspace being taken up by horns in a rock context. The only synth on the record is on the album's closer, "Epitaph on the World," and even though it's low in the mix, it sounds out of place.

Perhaps the greatest compliment you can give a record like this is that you might not have noticed it was a threeway if you hadn't known about it beforehand. By all accounts it was not an easy collaborative process and you can occasionally hear the tension as Daniels' cerebral, lofty sensibility clashes with White's more earthbound aggression. It's not a match made in heaven, but although it's spiky and occasionally forced, it's worth the effort. Or as Thoreau famously wrote, "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads."-dan siegler

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MP3: "The Funeral Bell"
David Karsten Daniels on Myspace

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