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Dan Wilson — Love Without Fear (2014)

 Dan Wilson — Love Without Fear (April 15th, 2014)

USA Flag        Dan Wilson — Love Without Fear
Θ♦   The New Solo Album from the Grammy winning co-writer/producer of  Adéle’s  Someone Like You (among many others!) Guests include Sara Bareilles, Natalie Maines, Missy Higgins, Lissie, Rachael Yamagata, Greg Leisz and more.
Θ♦   Former member of Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare who has become a respected songwriter, producer, and solo artist.
Born: May 20, 1961 in Minneapolis, MN
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Album release: April 15, 2014
Record Label: +180 RECORDS
Duration:     45:19
01 Love Without Fear (Dan Wilson)     3:32 
02 A Song Can Be About Anything (Dan Wilson)     3:44 
03 However Long (Dan Wilson)     4:02 
04 When It Pleases You (Dan Wilson)     4:12 
05 Disappearing (Dan Wilson)     3:33 
06 Too Much (Dan Wilson)     4:10 
07 Your Brighter Days (Dan Wilson)     3:38 
08 We Belong Together (Dan Wilson)     4:32 
09 Two (Dan Wilson)     4:10 
10 I Can Never Stay Mad at You (Dan Wilson)     4:00 
11 Even the Stars are Sleeping (Dan Wilson/Rachael Yamagata)    5:46
Album Moods: Reflective Sentimental Amiable/Good-Natured Autumnal Confident Earnest Sophisticated Sweet Wistful Witty Humorous Optimistic Plaintive Poignant Searching
Themes: Autumn Comfort Hanging Out Introspection Long Walk Reflection Reminiscing Affection/Fondness Feeling Blue Heartache In Love
▼   Sara Bareilles  Vocal Harmony
▼   Brad Bivens  Engineer
▼   Mai Bloomfield  Cello
▼   Ken Chastain  Bells, Congas, Percussion
▼   Peter Dawson  Digital Imaging
▼   Richard Dodd  Mastering
▼   Jonny Flower  Bass (Upright)
▼   Brad Gordon  Horn, Horn Arrangements, Horn Engineer, Mellotron, Organ, Synthesizer
▼   Ryan Hewitt  Mixing
▼   Missy Higgins  Duet, Vocals
▼   Oliver Kraus  Cello, Strings
▼   Greg Leisz  Guitar (Electric), Pedal Steel
▼   Lissie  Vocals (Background)
▼   Natalie Maines  Vocal Harmony
▼   Blake Mills  Guitar (12 String Acoustic), Guitar (Baritone), Guitar (Electric), Slide Guitar
▼   John Munson  Bass (Upright)
▼   Zac Rae  Celeste, Organ
▼   John Rausch  Engineer
▼   Aaron Redfield  Drums, Percussion
▼   Eric Robinson  Accordion, Additional Production, Engineer
▼   Josh Sieh  Engineer
▼   Aaron Sterling  Drums
▼   Chris Thompson  Engineer
▼   Virgilio Tzaj  Art Direction
▼   Joey Waronker  Drums
▼   Sara Watkins  Vocals (Background)
▼   Sean Watkins  Guitar, Guitar (Ac.), Guitar (Baritone), Guitar (El.), Harmony, Mandolin, Soloist
▼   Dan Wilson  Bass, Composer, Drums, Engineer, Guitar, Guitar (Acoustic), Guitar (Baritone), Guitar (Electric), Illustrations, Lettering, Lyricist, Percussion, Piano, Producer, Pump Organ, Soloist, Vocals
▼   Craig Wright  Synthesizer
▼   Rachael Yamagata  Composer, Lyricist
Review by Timothy Monger | Score: ****
   From his early days as singer and guitarist for Minneapolis cult favorites Trip Shakespeare to his Grammy-winning turn as songsmith for acts like the Dixie Chicks and Adele, Dan Wilson‘s career has been a humble and inspiring Midwestern success story. Pouring his passions and talent into various collaborations, production efforts, and graphic art, Wilson has dedicated a relatively scant amount of time (though plenty of effort) to his career as a solo artist. 2007′s sharp collection Free Life was only his first studio LP and it took him another seven years to follow it up with the warm, meditative Love Without Fear. Although Wilson began his career in the mid-’80s, he’s chosen his projects carefully, and since the dissolution of Semisonic (his second and most successful band) in 2001, he’s made it his business to stand for quality over quantity. The 11 songs on Love Without Fear pull from the various styles in which Wilson has worked, blending bits of country and Americana with straight-ahead rock and pop, all fused to a sturdy spine of classic singer/songwriter music. Even more so than on Free Life, the songs are delivered on warmly recorded acoustic guitar or piano and tastefully backed by a band of industry pros and guests like Blake Mills, Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins, and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines. There’s certainly a weariness to tracks like the country waltz “Too Much” and the darkly epic “However Long,” but Wilson never wallows in it. His songs have always carried a thread of hope and contain a silver lining more often than not. It’s what gives legs to a great track like “A Song Can Be About Anything,” which is actually about a breakup, or to the lovely, melancholic album closer and Missy Higgins duet “Even the Stars Are Sleeping.” Love Without Fear is a strong, mature work and it’s great to hear Wilson step out from behind his collaborators to present his own work again. His songwriting may have brought him the most success, but it’s Wilson’s superb tenor voice that gives those songs a life of their own. Let’s hope it’s not another seven years before we hear it again.

Artist Biography by Mark Deming
   Dan Wilson has been a cult hero of American smart pop music since the late '80s as guitarist with the bands Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic, and in the 21st century he's quietly embarked on a solo career. Born on May 20, 1961, Wilson was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and like his brother Matt Wilson, he developed a passion for music and learned how to play guitar in his teens. Wilson studied art at Harvard University, but after graduating, he returned to Minneapolis to discover that his brother Matt's band Trip Shakespeare — a locally popular trio fusing pop hooks with a psychedelic sense of aural wanderlust — were thinking of adding a second guitar player. Dan joined Trip Shakespeare shortly after the release of their first album, 1986's Applehead Man, and made his recorded debut with the group on 1988's Are You Shakespearienced? Trip Shakespeare signed a deal with A&M Records in 1989, and they recorded two albums and one EP for the label, 1990's Across the Universe, 1991's Lulu, and 1992's Volt. Unfortunately, the group's following never grew beyond an enthusiastic cult, and A&M opted not to release the Volt EP, which instead came out through Minneapolis indie label Twin/Tone.
   After A&M dropped Trip Shakespeare and the group members parted ways, Dan Wilson concentrated on writing songs before forming a new band, Semisonic, in 1995.    Featuring former Trip Shakespeare bassist John Munson and drummer Jacob Slichter, Semisonic's approach was as pop-oriented as Wilson's previous band, but with a more accessible melodic sense, and the group earned positive reviews and a devoted fan following for their debut EP, 1995's Pleasure, and their first full-length album, 1996's The Great Divide, which was Semisonic's first release under a deal with MCA Records. Released in 1998, Feeling Strangely Fine was a major commercial breakthrough for Semisonic, scoring two hit singles ("Closing Time" and "Secret Smile") and earning the group a platinum album. However, while 2001's All About Chemistry received enthusiastic reviews and the single "Chemistry" was a hit in the U.K., the album didn't click with record buyers, and Semisonic quietly went on hiatus, though they made periodic concert appearances and compilation appearances.
   As Semisonic went into semi-retirement, Wilson focused his energies on songwriting and studio work; he produced albums for Mike Doughty, Epic Hero, the New Standards and Storyville, and collaborated on songs with Jewel, Jason Mraz, and the Dixie Chicks, including the Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice," which in 2007 won the Grammy Award as Song of the Year. After his breakthrough with the Dixie Chicks, Wilson became highly in demand as a tunesmith and producer, contributing tunes to projects by Adele (winning a Grammy in 2012 for 21), Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Josh Groban, P!nk, and a handful of other pop and country hitmakers. At the same time that Wilson was enjoying new success as a songwriter, he was also continuing to pursue his own recording career. A series of demos he recorded was passed to producer and A&R man Rick Rubin by mutual friend Sheryl Crow, and Rubin signed Wilson to a deal with American Recordings.
   Wilson's solo debut, 2007's Free Life, fared well with critics but was a commercial disappointment, and Wilson's next few projects were released though his own Ballroom Music label, including the 2009 concert set Live at the Pantages and Minneapolis 2010, a document of a live show by Dan & Matt Wilson, their first public performance together since retiring Trip Shakespeare. (Dan and Matt returned three years later with another live set, Minneapolis 2013, and the full Trip Shakespeare lineup made a surprise reunion as special guests at a New Standards holiday concert in December 2013.) Dan Wilson also began performing a series of intimate "Words and Music" concerts, in which he played tunes he wrote or co-wrote for others, and in the fall of 2013 he issued a single, "Disappearing," through the indie singles-only label Canvas Club. Wilson announced that "Disappearing" was the first in a series of singles leading up to his next studio album. When not busy with his many other projects, Wilson is also a respected visual artist who works in paints and pen-and-ink drawings, and occasionally performs with John Munson and Matt Wilson in their side project the Flops. In April of 2014, Wilson released his second album, Love Without Fear, which featured guest spots from singers like Sara Bareilles, Missy Higgins, and the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines.
   Seven years after Dan Wilson last released a solo studio album, 2007′s “Free Life,” the singer and songwriter is back with a new release, “Love Without Fear.” The album premieres today on Speakeasy.
   “I let a criminal amount of time go by between recordings,” Mr. Wilson says, though he’s kept plenty busy in the meantime, co-writing songs with the likes of Adele, Taylor Swift, Dierks Bentley, John Legend, Nas, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and more. He’s now an in-demand collaborator, but Mr. Wilson wrote 10 of the 11 tracks on “Love Without Fear” himself (he teamed with the singer and songwriter Rachael Yamagata on the closing song, “Even the Stars are Sleeping”).
   The songs reflect the sense of loneliness and desire for connection that Mr. Wilson felt while writing them, making for an album that is confessional and intimate. Though he initially recorded the songs with himself playing most of the instruments, he wasn’t satisfied with the result.
   “There was something missing, something wrong, and I realized that what it was was other people,” he says. So he recruited other musicians including the guitarists Blake Mills and Sean Watkins and singers Natalie Maines, Sara Bareilles, Missy Higgins and Sara Watkins, and is much happier with what he calls the “jam-with-friends” version.
   “I would love these songs to become the soundtrack to a lot of people’s lives this year, and I want them to listen to these songs five or 10 years from now and be transported back to now and have memories of listening to ‘Love Without Fear,’” he says.
   “Love Without Fear” is due Tuesday on Mr. Wilson’s Ballroom Music label, with an exclusive license to Kobalt Label Services. What do you think of the album? Leave your thoughts in the comments. (http://blogs.wsj.com/)

Dan Wilson — Love Without Fear (2014)