THE WHEEL IS MAKING ITS MARK
David Olney's keen sense
for sketches and stories have shaped his identity as a master songwriter.
Hall - No Depression
If David Olney'sThe Wheel, a song
cycle about, well, cycles sounds just a mite too conceptual for its
own good, that's because you haven't heard Olney. He can bring rugged
passion to even the smartest lyric. And songs such as The Girl I
Love and Chained and Bound to the Wheel aren't just smart,
they're wise. Olney sings masterfully, whether on the gospel cadences
of Voices on the Water or the laconic folk melodies of Stonewall.
At the center is the brilliant Revolution, which seems to be
about something as simple as seasons - "We all believe the summer
lasts forever" - but with a message that runs much deeper. Between
several songs, Olney drops in little interludes that seem like half-finished
motifs - and it's only until you reach the end that you realize he has
been building a round. Which, of course, is a fitting way to finish
Brian Mansfield - USA Today
late singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt put Olney on his short list
of favorite writers, along side Mozart, Lightnin' Hopkins and Bob Dylan
-- a declaration as audacious and stubborn as Van Zandt's fiercely personal
tunes. So it's fitting that you find a Van Zandt-like daring in many
of this Nashville craftsman's wonderfully detailed examinations of the
human condition -- songs that show a disdain for the formulas and compromises
that might lead them onto the sales charts.
Olney, in fact, may be the best songwriter to have released nearly
a dozen albums without making the weekly list of the Top 200 sellers.
"The Wheel" is still a long shot for the charts, but his growing
list of endorsements (from Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle, among others)
should eventually encourage a wider audience to sample his work.
There are hints of a concept in these songs about the spiritual
and psychological struggles to maintain balance and hope. The best ones
center on the search for comfort, love and simple clarity amid the roadblocks
put up by demons and fate.
Backed by strikingly aggressive sonic textures (with violins
sometimes dueling guitars) on such tracks as "Big Cadillac"
and "God Shaped Hole" and then by only the most tender strains
elsewhere, Olney gives us an album with the most original mix of heart
and fury since Tom Waits' "Mule Variations."
There may be a couple of wrong notes on the album, but never
a false one.
Robert Hilburn - The Los Angeles Times.
Writing from the point
of view of historical characters has become one of Mr. Olney's most
distinguishing talents, whether he's singing from the mind of a donkey
that carried Jesus or imagining Jesse James's last bragging words before
being shot by Robert Ford.
- The New York Times
Any time anyone asks me
who my favorite music writers are, I say Mozart, Lightnin' Hopkins,
Bob Dylan, and Dave Olney. Dave
Olney is one of the best songwriters I've ever heard, and that's true.
I mean that from my heart.
Olney's prodigious talent grows: It may be a
cinch to compare a songwriter to a screenwriter or a playwright, but
if anyone deserves such praise, it would be Olney.
His songs are rich with complex characters, unpredictable plot
twists, and grand tragedies; they dramatize the brutality of evil and
the quiet dignity of goodness--but with Olney, once he's got a listener's
attention, he'll never lose it.
Indeed, Olney's work provides the kind of pleasures that make
the search for new music worth the trouble.
McCall - Nashville Scene
David Olney has been a brilliant and under appreciated
singer-songwriter for quite some time.
Sort of an American Richard Thompson, the Nashvillian ranges
from brooding chamber-folk to bluesy, down-and-dirty rock while writing
piercingly intelligent and empathetic tunes that immediately engage
both the head and gut. - The Philadelphia Inquirer
David Olney is a paleontologist of the soul .
. . a wicked, astute, sly psychologist.
- The Morning Call, Allentown,
He writes both some of the most gorgeous love
songs·and some of the most chilling character studies·that you will
ever hear. And he delivers
them with a mixture of grace and good humor that places him in the company
of the very best of solo performers·
Unlike most modern songwriters, Olney makes no big show of how
sensitive he is. He just
gets on with it, giving us human beings in all their glory and foolishness·
David Olney isn't so much
a singer, or a songwriter, as a tour guide for the human condition,
the good and the bad that's inside us all. - Fortt Worth Star-Telegram
David Olney: He has a talent for making the most
classic tales work in vernacular music·
The guy is so complicatedly good, it's scary.
- Philadelphia City Paper
The man runs with a mighty serious crowd, and
he's got the goods to back it up.
Even stripped down to an acoustic guitar and his gruff, expressive
voice, his tales of woe and wisdom have the power to bring an audience
to its knees.
- Time Out New York
Like Randy Newman, Guy Clark, and John Prine,
singer-songwriter David Olney Has a distinctively American voice, and
that doesn't just mean his singing voice.
There's a swagger, a generosity, and a wise-guy wit in his writing
that we associate with our national character, an appreciation for the
underdog and the outlaw.
- New Country
Looking for someone who can tug at your heart
as well as kick you in the ass?
Well, David Olney is the man for you.
Marsh on "The Wheel"
David Olney started out being a Yankee youth
and wound up living (and I think, writing) as a Southerner. Then again,
he also began as a rebel, and rebels always fit in better elsewhere.
Olney's best lyrics simultaneously achieve the
dense, dark solemnities of Leonard Cohen and the laconic pensiveness
of Townes Van Zandt, with the dry wit of Woody Guthrie sprinkled around
for good measure. In fact, Olney writes so well, he presents himself
with a problem: People overlook his impressive performances of all those
finely wrought songs. They shouldn't. Olney never just wrote lyrics.
From his days with the X-Rays, he played and sang his heart out, and
although as a mature artist, he sings in more measured cadences, in
this respect his heart never moved far from where it started out.
The musicality of his words links him to that
long great chain of the very best. On The Wheel, this reaches its height
in that majestic little drama, "Revolution," which serves as a fitting
sequel to John Lennon's Beatles song of the same title, as a piece of
futuristic fiction, as a modern corollary to A Tale of Two Cities. Placed
at the exact center of the album's 15 tracks, this elusive, allusive
narrative of a raging battle that engulfs all humans in its path stands
as the metaphor for every song around it. "Revolution" recalls for me
that brilliant moment at the very end of Philip Pullman's His Dark Material
trilogy where humanity's prime project is defined as the creation of
the Republic of Heaven.
Every song here speaks to some deep matter
of the soul. The first track, "Wheels," features Olney singing what
sounds like the descendant of a Gothic chant, then opens up to a boisterous
set of philosophical aphorisms in "Big Cadillac." "Voices on the Water"
bespeaks gospel to its core, "Chained and Bound to the Wheel" evokes
Prometheus and St. Catherine (and all the wheels already summoned up).
"God Shaped Hole" speaks for itself, but who do you figure that Boss
is who don't throw no dice? Might he be Einstein's God who does not
shoot craps with the universe?
As with Cohen and Pullman, and for that matter
Van Zandt, Lennon and Dickens, Olney's spirituality centers on a universe
governed more by love than malice, in fact more by love than any other
single quality. The evocative wonder produced by "The Girl I Love" and
"All the Love in the World" lies in his ability to extend that spiritual
vision to all he loves.
Yet while brilliantly describing the way a heavenly
republic ought to work, David Olney never loses sight of the hurtful
way this one operates. So the girl he loves smiles, and then she cries,
and his heart quakes with the sight of the one and nearly breaks at
the sight of the other. This is life not only observed but lived at
the deepest level, and conveyed to everyone who hears it with commanding
artistry and a vision of the biggest future there is. I feel privileged
to hear it. Dave Marsh
2. Big Cadillac
3. Voices on the Water
4. Chained and Bound to the Wheel
6. Now and Forever
7. God Shaped Hole
9. Now I Start
11. Boss Don't Shoot No Dice
12. Precious Time, Precious Love
13. The Girl I Love
14. All the Love in the World
ABOUT DAVID OLNEY
David Olney is a singer-songwriter. But in his
case, perhaps the term should be capitalized. And maybe underlined and
printed in bold type as well.
To wit, the late Townes Van Zandt, a songwriting icon himself, rated
Olney as "one of the best songwriters I've ever heard," listing
him as one of his favorite music writers alongside Mozart, Lightnin'
Hopkins and Bob Dylan.
Olney's songs have been recorded by the two singers best known for showcasing
the work of the finest contemporary songwriters - Emmylou Harris and
Linda Ronstadt - and have earned him the sort of rare praise that is
generally reserved for the work of geniuses. For as Dave Ferman of the
Fort Worth Star-Telegram raves, "David Olney is as good as it gets.
For confirmation of such heady praise, one only need to turn to The
Wheel, Olney's new release on Loud House Records and his 11th studio
album. Like many Olney records, it has a thematic thread subtly weaving
through the work, this time one of circularity and motion, as he explores
a broad palette of modes, moods and characters that crackle with the
immediacy and emotional depth of reality transformed into music. With
a musical and lyrical touch that ranges from the shattering surprise
of a sucker punch to the piquant delicacy of a kiss, Olney forges the
lowdown with high art within the craft of the popular song, creating
virtual literature you can hum along with. Both on his own and in collaboration
with folk and pop legend Janis Ian, Oscar nominee Gwil Owen and respected
literary figure Bland Simpson, David Olney proves the transformational
power of the well-written song.
The Wheel brims with the literate vividness that has inspired critics
to compare Olney alternately to an author, painter, playwright and screenwriter.
"His songs are rich with complex characters, unpredictable plot
twists, and grand tragedies; they dramatize the brutality of evil and
the quiet dignity of goodness," wrote Michael McCall in the Nashville
Scene. Similarly, Jim Ridley noted in New Country how "David Olney
has a distinctly American voice. There's a swagger, a generosity and
a wise-guy wit in his writing that we associate with our national character,
an appreciation for the underdog and the outlaw."
Philadelphia Inquirer critic Nick Christiano compares Olney to "an
American Richard Thompson," observing how he "ranges from
brooding chamber folk to bluesy, down-and-dirty rock while writing piercingly
intelligent and empathetic tunes that immediately engage both the head
and the gut." It's those qualities as well as what the Star-Telegram's
Ferman calls Olney's "astounding" and "magnificent"
performing style that have made Olney the toast of musical cognoscenti
across North America and Europe.
A longtime resident of Nashville, a songwriters' city if there ever
was one, Olney was reared in Lincoln, Rhode Island. A love of musical
expression came early; he recalls as a youngster the exhilaration of
singing at the top of his lungs on quiet Sunday mornings as he rode
his bike along his paper route. At the age of 13, he got his first guitar,
and was soon digging down into the origins of contemporary American
folk by listening to and learning from Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly.
"Folk music was so immediate and self-contained and you could just
jump in and do it," Olney recalls.
But even though "folk was the way I chose to do music," at
the same time Olney tapped into the broad and rich veins of musical
vitality found in the 1960s. "Rock'n'roll and soul and the British
Invasion and pop music in general was the background music to all our
lives. After a while, it all runs together. Buddy Holly, John Lennon,
Chuck Berry, the Memphis Jug Band, Charlie Poole, Jimmy Reed, Otis Redding
and Bob Dylan all hit me where I live. Oh yeah, and Ray Charles. They
are all folk singers. They are all rock stars."
Attracted to the mysticism of the American South as a counterpoint to
the Yankee rationalism of his home turf, Olney headed to the University
of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where his brief tenure as a student
was soon overcome by the allure of making music. His college experience
did offer its creative benefits in making the acquaintance of his now
longtime friend Bland Simpson, the celebrated Southern author, musician
(The Red Clay Ramblers), historian and storyteller.
During a subsequent stint living in Atlanta, Olney had a "world-changing
moment" when he opened a show for Townes Van Zandt in nearby Athens.
"His music knocked me on my ear," explains Olney. "He
could write folk songs and make them contemporary; completely new. And
he wasn't afraid of poetry - he was completely fearless that way."
Olney eventually landed in Nashville, where he comfortably fell in with
such like-minded types as Guy Clark, Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell.
He chose the city for its Southern locale and the music industry there,
which proved to be in an entirely different solar system from the one
that Olney worked and created in. "I thought I was gonna get famous
real quick and that didn't happen," he recalls. "But I was
having a real good time, and I was getting real productive with my writing."
Olney soon "had it in mind that would be fun to start a little
band, a country and folk kind of thing. Then we played our first gig
and it got real loud," he says with a laugh. The group, David Olney
& The X-Rays, released one superb album, Contender, on Rounder Records
and helped jump start Nashville's non-country live music scene.
After the band ran its course, Olney went solo and never looked backwards.
Over what is now some two decades since of writing songs, making
albums and performing, he's amassed a highly impressive and distinctive
body of work. Along the
way, he's inhabited in song such real life characters as Omar Khayyam,
John Barrymore, T.E. Lawrence, John Dillinger, Barrabas and Jesse James
as well Bob Ford, the man who shot and killed James. Likewise, Olney's
creativity has crystallized such diverse points of view as the members
of a baseball team at play, the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem,
a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, and the sinking of the
Titanic from the perspective of the iceberg. He can just as easily convey
the feelings of such outsiders as drunkards, murderers, pool hustlers
and gamblers as compose elegant love songs that swoon with genuine romance.
And he sets it all within song structures that make such flights of
imagination tangible and accessible, drawing from folk, country, blues,
rock and R&B to create a rich American musical gumbo.
Although Olney's musical journey has skirted along the margins of popularity
and the music industry, "It's been great, really," he says
of his career. "When you're 20 years old, you just want to be famous
so badly, and I think it can be a real disaster artistically.
There's a certain freedom in working in the fields of obscurity
that I really enjoy. The writing of the songs and getting out and playing
in front of people is really the kick for me, and actually always has
been the kick."
"At this point, the main obligation I have is to the song,"
Olney concludes. "It's no longer a job or something external to
me. Making music and writing songs is like being right-handed. It's
just the way it is."
Read more about
The Wheel at:
Folkforum.NL - Holland
Hinternet - Germany
featured on The Wheel
baritone electric guitar
Chained & Bound to the Wheel
Boss Don't Shoot No Dice
Voices on the Water and Big Cadillac
The Girl I Love and All the Love in The World
The Girl I Love
All the Love in the World
Chenault, Leah Eneas, Danita Wilson
The Girl I Love and All the Love in the World
Voices On The Water and Boss Don't Shoot No Dice
Brothers appear courtesy of
Mighty Mighty Records
by Robb Earls & David Olney
at Sound Vortex Nashville by
Robb Earls & David Olney
at Sound Vortex by
Robb Earls & Booka Michel
at Terra Nova Digital Austin by
Jerry Tubb, Robb Earls, Booka Michel
and package design by
Brydget Carrillo for BC Photographics Nashville