To describe Daniel Romano as prolific would be an understatement: at my best count, the Canadian musician has released nearly 30 albums or EPs since his first solo LP, Workin' for the Music Man, came out in 2010. Over the course of this vast discography, Romano has shown an ability to make great work in a variety of genres, from the traditional country of Come Cry With Me to the freaky folk of Finally Free to the full-blown rock 'n roll of last year's Cobra Poems, recorded with his band, The Outfit. In a 2021 interview with Aquarium Drunkard, Romano claimed that he never second guesses himself, and that seems to be working out well—wherever the Muse goes, Romano follows, and the results are always interesting.
Most recently, the Muse led Romano to his most ambitious work yet: La Luna, an epic, esoteric poem in the form of a 33-minute rock opera. It's broken into two parts for LP formatting purposes, but La Luna is really one long piece, comprised of an overture, twelve movements, and a finale. It takes an artist with a special sort of vision to pull this kind of thing off successfully, but Daniel Romano and The Outfit are up to the task, and La Luna absolutely rules.
La Luna lacks the character-driven narrative of a typical rock opera, instead being structured around Romano's abstract spiritual poetry. The lyrics—which Romano has said were inspired by "ancient mystic verse"—are concerned primarily with the nature of existence, and return with regularity to the record's overarching lunar concept. Evocative imagery and cosmic wisdom abound. It's heady stuff, but it's delivered with the kind of conviction required to produce a revelatory result—Romano comes across less like a stoned philosophy major and more like a prophet whipping his followers into a rapturous frenzy.
Musically, the album takes influence from a variety of psychedelic, folk, and classic rock sources—Romano has mentioned The Beatles, Fairport Convention, Queen, and The Rolling Stones in particular. Such source material may be well-worn, but Romano and the gang effortlessly synthesize their influences into something that feels fresh and new. The Outfit—singers Carson McHone and Julianna Riolino, guitarist David Nardi, bassist Roddy Rosetti, and drummer Ian Romano—is one of the best bands in the business, and they shine on La Luna. McHone and Riolino's vocals provide moments of "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In"-level spiritual ecstasy throughout, offering a theatrical counterpoint and a response to Romano's call. The rhythm section deftly navigates the constantly-changing scenery, moving from groovy, Zeppelinesque stomps to waltzes and back again seamlessly. 33 minutes is a relatively short amount of time to squeeze in this many musical ideas, but it ends up working out—each movement is just long enough to hook you, and when the finale rolls around and brings everything together one last time, it feels like a genuine climax.
On this album, Daniel Romano and The Outfit engage in a lot of things that have a tendency to go poorly for rock bands—long songs, earnest spiritual seeking, rock operas, embracing the influence of Queen—and manage to succeed at them all. The result is that La Luna might be more than just Romano's most ambitious work: it might be his best. And when you're thirty-plus albums into a critically-acclaimed musical career, that really means something.
La Luna is out now on You've Changed Records, and you can buy it on bandcamp here. It's also available on whatever your favorite streaming service is these days.
Since I mentioned "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In, here's a really strange video of The 5th Dimension performing it on some kind of floating space platform on TV in 1969. I tried to find their clip from Summer of Soul, but it's unfortunately not on Youtube. I remember thinking they seemed like a bunch of delightful weirdos. Anyway, Hair isn't really my thing, but this song has like a dozen really incredible melodies and is very good.
Noted La Luna influence Fairport Convention is one of my all-time favorite bands, but precious little video exists of the band at their peak, which was really just the year 1969, during which they released three albums: What We Did on Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking, and Liege & Leaf, all of which proved to be massively influential within the burgeoning British folk-rock movement. I guess they were too busy recording to do a lot of TV. Anyway, I've always loved this video of Fotheringay—the incomparable Sandy Denny's post-Fairport project—playing Bob Dylan's "Too Much of Nothing" on Beat Club, and since it's probably the best Sandy Denny video on Youtube, I'm sharing it here. Jerry Donahue on guitar, too, whew.
That's all for now! See you next time.