By Jeffrey V. Smith
Making music is a survival technique for Danny Shafer, and always has been. This personal form of healing has helped him withstand a series of life-changing events the past two years while producing a collection of songs more honest and heart-felt than ever. Shafer celebrates this new music and the release of his fifth solo album, “Weddings, Floods and Funerals,” with a full band and special guests, Sept. 12, at eTown Hall in Boulder.
The hard-working, Lyons-based musician’s latest album was planned and recorded after the events following his recent marriage unfolded. “My now wife Amanda and I had our wedding party in July of 2013,” he said. “We lost our family home two months later in the floods. Later that fall, my best childhood friend took his life. So, while putting our very hurt lives together, this album was planned and recorded. I can only hope that the depths of the ups and down in my life come through on this recording.”
Songwriting and performing about 300 gigs a year has allowed Shafer to process these highs and lows and now says times are good. “We have been thru a lot since the flood,” he said. “I cannot say we will ever fully recover. We just lost too much too suddenly. It broke our hearts and will always effect how we see the world. Amanda and I and our children have worked endlessly to have a home and bring some calmness after the storm. We have a good and hardworking, simple life. I am so fortunate to have the family I do. They bring the inspiration to show up every night with my guitar and songs and do my best. This whole area of Colorado has been thru so much this last few years. It come out in the music and relationships I have. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been worthwhile. I guess that’s all I can ever hope for.”
On “Weddings, Floods and Funerals” Shafer is backed by his “dream band” featuring players with “experience, raw talent and gut.” It took calling in 90 percent of his “musical favors” to pull it off, he said. “Not only are there amazing players on this CD, but they are from different backgrounds and styles. That shows on the CD,” Shafer explained. “It makes it more interesting for me and the listener. Every player was asked to play what they felt, and then we worked on the take.”
The album’s tracks contain various combinations of Shafer with Chris Sheldon on drums, Kim Stone from Spyro Gyra on bass, Chad Stahely on piano, Greg Schochet on stringed instruments and Katie Glassman on fiddle and vocals. Other guests sang back-up vocals and made other musical contributions as well.
“Chris and Kim are the rhythm section we needed. What a feel,” Shafer said. “I take what they have shared with me [in the studio] to stage in some way every night as I go out and hit the road. I would like to say working with Kim Stone throughout the entire record was a bit of a musical life changer. Kim is one of the best, and just as inspired, and into sound.”
This is the second album Shafer has made with Robert Tarantino and his Tolstar Productions label, which features a Grammy and Emmy award-winning team of producers, engineers, writers and designers. “[They] have been supportive even when I am tired and road worn,” Shafer said. “They are a small label that can be hands-on every moment during a recording. Bob has great ears, patience and focus. I have needed all of these skills in him. I learn so much from the people I am lucky enough to work with. They take their part just as seriously as I do mine.”
The new album features songs eliciting a range of emotion. Some of the tracks and subject matter, especially those featuring a full-band, have the potential to instigate spontaneous, joyful dancing while others are much more heart-felt and personal with enough raw emotion to generate a tear. Some of the material is traditional acoustic music while other songs have a heavy rock influence. “My influences as a long term Colorado working musician have been really wide, as is our music scene,” Shafer said. “I think it shows.”
Whether a song has a band or is a solo arrangement, it’s all the same for Shafer and Tarintino who are “just doing our best to do what the songs are asking for.” The songwriter says with Tarantino producing, he “always has me thinking about being honest” to the songs. “I am very chaotic about writing. I never have a plan or direction when writing,” he explained. “I want to listen to the songs after they are written to see what the best way to get the point of the song across. Sometimes the message is clear with just a guitar. Other times it takes a honky-tonk piano and a pedal steel.”
Like his last solo release, “Wherever You Are.” Shafer and Tarantino picked through a “ton” of material to find the songs that felt best together. “The intentions of this collection of songs is the message of family, survival, strength and the struggle to keep our way of life in an ever changing place where we call home,” Shafer said.
Shafer celebrates the album’s release at a full concert performance at eTown Hall, Sept. 12—the two-year anniversary of losing his home. “We are proud to be having the release there,” he said. “It’s a world-class venue.” A full band will feature Dechen Hawk on organ, Chris Ramey on pedal steel, Todd May on drums and Kim Stone on bass. Other special guests will also take the stage. Paul Kimbiris, who’s songs have appeared on several major network TV shows, opens at 7 p.m. VIP tickets with reserved seating and a copy of the new CD are $25. General admission is $15.
The musician is not sure how his music has evolved since the last record, but by playing 300 shows this year, he does know music is a constant. “It’s a way of life and a lifestyle,” he said. “I think every album is a chance to get the music down to a more honest level while experimenting and pushing myself to go a bit farther.” See for yourself by checking out Shafer’s new music when “Weddings, Floods and Funerals” is available mid-September.
Originally published in the September 2015 issue of the MMAC Monthly