Sometimes Nashvillian Daniel James, the talented multi-instrumentalist behind Canon Blue, is largely bereft of a local scene. And this can’t be explained away by the fact that he spends so little time here. (James tours with the Danish musical collective Efterklang and lives in Copenhagen when not in Nashville.) Ultimately this says something about his music, which began as ruminative bedroom folk in 2007 and has grown into an elegant orchestral pop sound that recalls Sufjan Stevens, Owen Pallett and, at times, Philip Glass. Though catchy enough to illicit comparisons to Nashville-based, mainstream-leaning acts like Paper Route, Rumspringa is ultimately a very cosmopolitan album, full of high-brow nods to sounds not percolating from our punk-dominated underground with any regularity.
Which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with this scenario. Or that James is somehow less of a "local" by virtue of his time spent across the Atlantic. (Who wouldn’t want to see the world with a few richly cultured Danes or track strings, as he did on Rumspringa, with Amiina, whose work can be heard on almost all of Sigur Rós' albums?) No, this is simply a way of suggesting that, with regard to the new collection, James has gracefully distinguished himself from his peers in the best way possible — upping the ante in a scene that could benefit from some new ideas while giving outsiders one more reason to forfeit their conventional wisdom about Nashville.
Rumspringa was recorded with assistance from James' pals in Efterklang and, as I mentioned, Amiina. But it nonetheless feels like one hand is guiding the affair through-and-through. Sophisticated string movements and percussive flourishes abound, yet James' strong, whispery voice and empathetic stories are what tugged at me the most. Indeed, James (and his coterie) are clearly talented enough to pummel us with impressive feats of musicality, but employ just enough restraint to ensure that, at its core, Rumpringa remains a direct and relatable thing — one in which gut-level emotions are never lost amid the stately arrangements buzzing 'round. James makes this thesis clear in the third track, “Indian Summer (Des Moines),” when he sings, “I won’t make you any more tired.” Though not directed our way, the metaphor can’t be ignored — everyday listeners, not pontificating art school students, comprise James' desired audience. And come to think of it, that’s about as “Nashville” as you can get.
"A Native (Madison)," from Rumspringa: