Danny O'Keefe

Don't Ask

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Proof of a songwriter's mettle is not only in his longevity, but in the consistency of his craft within that continuum. Danny O'Keefe's thirty-plus years on the scene haven't been prolific in terms of the number of releases, but they have been marked by the startlingly steady quality of his work, both in and out of the spotlight. And work is still the songwriter's measure of art. Don't Ask is a co-writing collaboration with longtime friend and music mate Bill Braun -- who has worked with O'Keefe on and off since Global Blues in the 1970s, and whose other credits include a long tenure as Bobby Womack's producer. While the songs on Don't Ask are sketched in, and articulated with modern production techniques -- keyboards and electronic percussion adorn (but don't dominate) each track -- the songs themselves retain the timeless quality of O'Keefe's best work. His willingness to be narrator, intimate confidante, and protagonist, sometimes in the same song, all carry within their voices the elegance and awkwardness of everyday life. On "King of the Blue Glow," Braun and O'Keefe offer one of the more harrowing and humorous views of television watching, where the distance between the observer and screen at times becomes difficult to discern between who is the watcher and who is the one being watched -- the protagonist himself has a hard time distinguishing day from night by song's end. With shimmering drum loops and drifting keyboard washes, with icy guitars hovering about the backdrop, it becomes an exercise in adult pop futurism. Elsewhere, such as on the opener, "Rock Goodbye, Baby," O'Keefe uses his trademark engagement with blues, jazz, and sophisticated pop stylings to tell another story of postmodern alienation and loss while living in the heat of the moment. The acoustic guitars that lie just under the percussion and roiling bassline act as the framework of courage for the protagonist to utter his observations and morality tale. This is the 21st century version of O'Keefe's "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues." Ultimately, on cuts like "Tantra," "Suddenly the Celestials," and "Turn That Damn Thing Down..." irony fits like a glove over the melodies and production, where the lines between bridges and verses become as blurry as the landscape that is at once recognizable and yet utterly foreign to the listener. The elegant, tough pop of "Steel Dream," and "Jody," offer those of us on the upper side of forty a way to measure both optimism and regret. Guitars, Hammond organs, and keyboard loops offer a luminous backdrop for O'Keefe's razored, unflinching view of life going by in a blur. But something's wrong. Not with the music or the lyrics -- both of which are sublime -- but with a pop culture scene that would let gorgeous recordings like this linger in obscurity; that does not find a place for them on the shelf of the local CD emporium where they could be found next to the music of younger modern classicists like Outkast. There is great and lasting pleasure to be found in encountering Don't Ask by O'Keefe and Braun; there is little in reporting that you will probably have to special order it, unless you shop exclusively online.

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