Ashley Daneman Sings About Pain, Recovery, Rebirth
On Bold New Album People Are Fragile
Kintsugi is the Japanese craft of repairing a broken object with gold, thus making it stronger. The hallmark of kintsugi is that the repairs are visible. The beauty of the reborn object derives from the patterns of its fractures, rather than from an effort to hide them. On People Are Fragile, singer-songwriter Ashley Daneman offers up her pain and healing in ways both visible and audible, inviting the listener to celebrate what humans can become even after they’ve broken.
“I’ve had a lot of grief and loss over the past few years,” Daneman said, “and I was very in touch with my fragility. My previous album, Beauty Indestructible, was about surviving and being strong. I realized that, to heal further, I had to become vulnerable again.”
People Are Fragile, released on the artist-owned Flood Music label, features eight original compositions, two spirituals with pianist Rufus Ferguson, and one song from Gershwin’s Porgy And Bess. The entire album feels very exposed and intimate, like a deep, late-night conversation between old friends who don’t spare each other’s feelings.
“When a glass breaks in your kitchen it breaks everywhere,” Daneman said. “Some pieces are easy to pick up and put in the trash. The other pieces are fine and needle-like and around for years and years. This album is what my life is like, and I offer it up in solidarity with anyone else who feels the same.”
People Are Fragile was recorded primarily in Chicago by a stellar band made up of pianist Rob Clearfield (Fareed Haque, Grazyna Auguscik); bassist Andrew Vogt (Ernie Watts); drummers Quinlan Kirchner (Wild Belle) and Makaya McCraven (Bobby Broom, Marquis Hill); and guitarist and lap steel player Matt Gold (Sun Speak, Storm Jameson; Gold is also one of the owners of Flood Music). Also appearing are Ferguson and percussionist Bujo Kevin Jones (Whitney Houston, The Isley Brothers).
“I just wanted to make something honest, and I think that was a really good place to be,” Daneman said. “I was very influenced by two albums: Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, in terms of the role of the bass and pedal steel and the songwriting; and also Laura Mvula’s album Sing To The Moon, which is one of those albums that when you hear it, you feel it was made just for you and you want to absorb every piece of it. She has a lot of layering and vocal harmonies and that really spoke to me as well.”
Much of Daneman’s previous work has incorporated explicit or implicit references to her religious faith, and at first listen People Are Fragile seems to as well. Like much in her life, however, Daneman’s faith has undergone a transformation:
“I’ve shifted much more faith into myself and into my own power, versus a religious map. I wouldn’t say that I’ve lost any of my spirituality, but I’ve shifted where my faith lies and what I’m emphasizing. There was a period of reckoning where I questioned my tidy view of how things are.”
People Are Fragile is anything but tidy. Like the Japanese craft that inspired its cover image, it’s an album of shining beauty made from the real fault lines of life. It’s a mature and honest and fearless record, and it signals the next big step in the musical career of Ashley Daneman.
TRACKS [comp. Daneman unless otherwise noted]: 1. I Alone Love The Unseen In You; 2. If I Knew Who I Was; 3. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child [trad.]; 4. When You Break; 5. Shake It All Down; 6. Daddy’s Gonna Die Soon; 7. Deep River [trad.]; 8. My Man’s Gone Now [Gershwin/Heyward]; 9. The Feeling Of Heavy; 10. Pictures In The Atmosphere; 11. Did Anyone Ever Sow You A Lie?; 12. Recall.
PERSONNEL: Ashley Daneman, voice: all tracks; Rob Clearfield, piano/wurlitzer/organ: all tracks except 3, 7; Rufus Ferguson, piano: 3, 7; Andrew Vogt, electric bass: all tracks except 3, 7; Quinlan Kirchner, drums: 1, 4, 5, 6, 10; Makaya McCraven, drums: 2, 8, 9, 12; Matt Gold, guitar/lap steel: 1, 4, 5, 6, 10; Kevin Bujo Jones, percussion: 8