Daniel Amos – Dig Here, Said the Angel (Stunt)

Dig Here Said the Angel

Poetry hasn’t died. It just comes wrapped up in vivid punky psychedelia like this.

4 Stars

11 Tracks / 55 Minutes

It’s sobering to hear a band I discovered in my teens now releasing a disc that’s all about ageing and mortality.

But Daniel Amos are getting old. Over four decades they have worked free of the need for labels and have accumulated enough support to have this disc Kickstarter-funded and with fan-submitted artwork gracing its packaging. Their longevity also means that they can afford a twelve-year break – long enough to have collected a strong set of songs (although I suspect that these are only a few of many options available to them).

DA have often shown themselves to be close cousins to indie band The Choir and that bond is easy to see here. Choir lynchpin Steve Hindalong guests on percussion and one of this collection’s strongest features is Choir-member Tim Chandler’s distinctive bass (or, as the liner notes have it, “bass, noise and infernal racket, background vocals.”) But it’s not just the mechanics; the two bands seem to have traveled a similar journey, both becoming more reflective, more introspective and more aware of grace and the nuances of belief that develop over time.

Not averse to picking out a theme for their albums, DA have assembled several songs that touch on the proximity of death. There’s a clue in the album’s dedication to the late Tom Howard (also recently mourned on record by the Choir), but Terry Scott Taylor’s vivid lyrics make the point more forcefully. “Now that I’ve Died” is a message from beyond the grave. “We’ll All Know Soon Enough” and “Ruthless Hum of Dread” ponder heaven, hell and fear. “Waking Up Underwater” reminds us that, whatever our dreams, we will all die. “Jesus Wept” and the title track both lament physical decline and do so both from the gut and with some black humour.

“I pound against the wall of my ageing skin…
Another bad guy wins, more good friends die.
They mounted up like eagles, now they’re dropping like flies.
I cry, ‘Let me out!’ You’re saying, ‘No, not yet’.
Before he danced, Jesus wept.”  (from Jesus Wept)

“’Dig here,” said the angel. I asked, ‘My heart or my grave?’
‘Maybe both,’ said the angel, ‘Things can go either way.
There’ll come a time,’ said the angel, ‘You’ll lose that suit of wrinkled skin
and when you walk up to the big door, you can go right in.

‘Here’s the catch,’ said the angel: ‘You’re gonna suffer for a while.
I’ll tell you straight,’ said the angel: ‘Don’t plan to go out in style.’” (from Dig Here…)

Remaining tracks cover mercy (“Love, Grace and Mercy” and the darkly poppy “New Testament Best”); God’s limitless grace (the anthemic “The Sun Shines on Everyone”) and a wise song that demonstrates, as its title says, “The Uses of Adversity.” There’s not a bad song on the album.

This collection has vacuumed up sounds from various stages of their past, sometimes all inside one song. The intro to the title track features Chandler’s bass at its most thick, fuzzy, groovy and prominent, but it also has a punky Steve Taylor-like chorus, all of it wrapped up in some dreamy synth-and-guitar sonics. At times those Eagles-like harmonies from the Shotgun Angel days echo in the album’s background and there are several Beatles-like psychedelic moments.

Fan-funding has not meant any short-cuts. Quite the contrary: this is another career highlight and possibly their best-ever sound. We would be cheering on the resurrection of concept albums if they were all like this.

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