Danny Michel,
(self-produced, 1999)

It's hard to imagine a more talented lyricist than Danny Michel. His ability with words verges on virtuosity, which can be both a blessing and a curse. In Fibsville, Michel tends to rely too heavily on his lyric genius, and yet has created an affecting and enjoyable album.

Fibsville is Michel's second full-length CD, with 14 self-penned tunes (two recorded live). Backed primarily by Peter von Althen on drums and Ian LeFeuvre on bass, Michel handles everything else: guitars, keyboards and various eclectic sounds. Because he controls so many of the creative elements here, Michel has been able to achieve consistency and a strong personal vision. All in all, Fibsville is thoughtful and enjoyable album which brings to mind the best work of Aimee Mann.

"Coalmine" is a good choice for an opening track, with an irresistible melodic hook in the chorus and the dense and clever lyrics that are Michel's trademark. This is followed by "Hartley," which has an appealing toy piano-like opening. Conscious or not, this choice underlines some of the most intriguing contradictions in Michel's work: the interplay between the funny and the serious, the youthful and the mature, the little indie artist and the huge songwriting talent.

Production-wise, Michel balances a playful sensibility that isn't afraid to throw in a weird and wonderful sound (i.e., the watery sounds in "Hartley") just for the heck of it with the restraint necessary to make an enduring album. On "Souvenir," he plays with an outer space theme reminiscent of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and again uses just the right amount of spacey effects -- always fun, never obtrusive.

Out in front at all times are Michel's biting and perfectly-tuned vocals, which deliver his exquisitely insightful rhymes ("I'm out of here, I volunteer, let me be your souvenir") with perfect clarity. Even though you can hear every word, it would be nice to read the lyrics in the liner notes, so we can savour them more fully. "Whale of a Tale," a funny and poignant recounting of a chronic liar's yarns, includes the line "...and the pilot had a heart attack so I had to land the plane / I once saved a little kid from drownding [sic] / and I invented cellophane."

And then there's "Elgin Ave," one of the best songs about homelessness I've heard, which just shimmers with lyrics like "The sky is looking mean and grey, tomato is the soup today, as the homeless lay out plastic on the ground..." and "she takes this chance to start anew with the hotel sample free shampoo." This is Danny Michel's genius: to craft lyrics that make you laugh through the tears.

Like many prolific songwriters, one of Michel's challenges may be to weed out his material and cull the very best from a group of very good songs. With 14 songs on Fibsville, the ears and brain get a little tired after awhile. One choice Michel might consider (and with a new CD out soon it'll be interesting to see if he does) is to highlight the songs that do have universal themes and strong hooks. "Coalmine" certainly falls into this category, as does "Fantastic Place," which has a fabulous chorus and a universal theme but which is almost overlooked at track #11, long at 5:22 and produced like a charming demo.

Danny Michel has a tendency to rest on the laurels of his lyrics, letting the melody take the backseat. With a shade more attention to melody and hook, Michel's songs could really soar into the stratosphere.

[ by Joy McKay ]
Rambles: 8 July 2001

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