Musicians: Dan Goldman, Guitar and Vocals: Daniela Gesundheit, Vocals,With The St. Kitts String Quartet

String Arrangement Owen Pallett

Defining or describing Canadian Dan Goldman’s second album will take some doing. How to start? Well, lyrically and melodically, his plaintiff words, acoustic guitar, and gentle vocals spin out a dream-like realm on the shore of his Luxury Pond. It’s where the ethereal folk songwriting of a Donovan Leitch meets the classical compositional approach of a Joseph Haydn by way of Over The Rhine. In particular, to call the musicians who perform with him “supporting players” would seriously understate the contributions of, for starters, the contrapuntal St.Kitts String Quartet. From the opening baroque passages in “Lower Me Down” and throughout the journey, Bethany Bergman (violin 1), Jenny Thomson (violin 2), Karen Moffatt (viola), and John Marshman (cello), as arranged by Owen Pallett, are as integral to the sonic vista as Goldman himself. Additional colorings came from background vocalist Daniela Gesundheit (aka Snowblink), Joe Phillips on upright bass, and Marc Duggan on assorted percussion. In addition, Ryan Driver’s analog synthesizer gives many of the songs almost Beatlesque qualities.

As if coming from a poet sitting on a beach letting his subconscious wander, Goldman’s songs blend abstract wordplay with meditative intimate personal reflections. If there’s one unifying trope, it’s water imagery. For example, in Dear Shark, Goldman finds connections between the sea creature and himself, both having a “body that is your brain.” Water sounds introduce Caving In where a frozen lake serves as a metaphor for the distance between two people, a divide Goldman is fearful of crossing. In Prelude to, the singer compares himself to a fish swimming in clear waters with a beautiful musical bridge featuring Gesundheit’s soprano and presumably Mark Duggan on xylophone. Clay is about an artistic girl who “made clay portraits of me” by that frozen lake. For lack of a better term, Waters Clear and Rivers are symphonic psychedelia where the poet remembers a world he used to know. 

Not everything is so aquatic, but most of the words are equally elliptical, illusory, and subtle stream of consciousness. In Boulders, the poet has had a “heavy year” but has come above ground to bathe in the colors of nature. The lyrics of the Bones are about poison being in those bones and in you, which might sound like dark thoughts not representative of this album’s themes. But such observations are belied by Goldman’s concluding refrain of “everything is all right.” Likewise, bending, quivering strings color I Don't Believe You, a line the singer keeps telling himself as if he’s not certain at all he believes his own words. He tells us Truest Nature cannot be concealed, even in a world of his surrealistic and religious images that give way to “your holy nature.”

According to their publicity, Luxury Pond is described as a duo of Goldman and Gesundheit. On stage, apparently the latter not only provides backup vocals but uses various items for percussive effects. I can’t attest to their live performances, but this release is Dan Goldman as squarely the man in the middle. Artful, intricately crafted settings by all the other musicians provide distinctive and often surprising moods and textures. It’s difficult to imagine any of the parts being removed without unraveling this often delicate and nuanced tapestry.

So how do you define Luxury Pond? You don’t. It’s an album to appreciate with minimal preconceptions so you too can float and immerse yourself in the imagination of Dan Goldman. It’s not casual listening but rather an opportunity to hear musical genres  melt together like remote streams coming together in that metaphorical pond.

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