As if she needed more credits, the arresting, much acclaimed Edmonton singer, songwriter, guitarist, scholar and teacher is now a doctor after completing her PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of Alberta last month.
“Just call me doc,” Danser jokes.
All this comes as she unveils her most compelling recording yet, Goin’ Gone. Coaxed on by Nashville-based Canadian roots music producer Steve Dawson for his Black Hen label, it’s a true road album etched with the signposts of Danser’s travels to America’s cradle of the blues, marked by the echoes of personal inspirations, struggles and triumphs that have brought her to this artistic peak.
Dawson will be a special guest when Danser and her band The Tall Tales tackle the new tunes in concert at Festival Place on Wednesday, a bonus to mark this new high water level in her career.
It’s been a decade now since she started heading down south to Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, taking road trips two or three times a year to drink in and map out folk blues history firsthand. Much of that research wound up in her thesis — No Strings Attached, Black Musicians in String Bands in the American South From 1920 to 1950.
But to hear what Danser has absorbed by osmosis you have to listen to Goin’ Gone, a gritty, profound memoir to her experiences that bursts out with a bucket seat bounce.
“It brought back a piece of my history, not just in blues, but roots in country and old-time music that I had kind of forgotten until I was driving along in Knoxville, Tennessee in late 2016. The whole album was written while I was on that trip, in the car, on the road.”
She recorded at Dawson’s Nashville studio in 2017 with a hand-picked expert band including bassist Jeremy Holmes, drummer Gary Craig, sax and harmonica man Jim Hoke, and the producer on guitar or pedal steel guitar. Listeners will be tempted to relax and enjoy the breeze as Danser and crew hum along in this vintage vehicle, but strap yourself in because before long it’s clicking along with bluesy excitement.
“I wanted an album that I could move around to and let out more of my energy. Steve and I knew what approach we wanted rhythmically but it was infused with a lot of interesting textures that I hadn’t anticipated, and I really fine-tuned the lyrics as we were recording. I wanted to record what was inside the music, to allow it to be what it is. I only overdubbed on one song, after I got in the car and re-wrote the lyrics to Goin’ Gone.”
Danser’s scholarly storyteller side edges out between songs on stage, but the numbers Memphis, Tennessee, Kansas City Blues, and Voodoo Groove (for New Orleans) address famous music cities.
“I bring myself and my experiences to the blues, and it’s written from a personal place, but on this album I really took note of the historical significance of where I was.”
Two covers pay a nod to fave inspirations, Sam McGhee’s Chevrolet Car, and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s Train I Ride, but it’s Danser’s own songs that really boost the oxygen of that hot, humid, country air. The title track and numbers like Hol’ Up, Baby hint at jump blues, rockabilly and train rhythms but there are chilling moments in store too, like her political call to action on Light The Flame.
Then there’s the deceptively gentle ballad My Town. Alluding to her experience of childhood abuse, the track she calls “the heart of the album” packs an emotional wallop.
“It’s been a shock to me how many DJs are playing that song. It’s a heartbreaker about how my childhood was rocked by violence, alcoholism and abuse, and how everyone in our town knew what was going on and didn’t do anything. I hope that recording captures the loneliness of that isolation. I’m 50 years old and if something like what I’ve experienced can help someone else heal, why not?”
Powerful stuff Dr. Danser.
Goin’ Gone is Danser’s fifth album since 2002 but her first time signed to a label. After playing Canada coast-to-coast she’s hoping it opens new avenues to roots and blues, Americana and country circuits in North America and Europe.
“It’s a whole new world to get my music out there. My hope is that this album takes my professionalism up another notch, but I just have to keep making the best music I can.”
Here at home and on the road her band The Tall Tales puts its spin on the music. After some five years together guitarist Jim Guiboche, bassist Chris Brzezicki, and drummer Kelly Kruse “really understand what this album is all about” and find their own wrinkles in Danser’s songs.
“I see this album as a beginning to expressing myself in a new way. I’ve stopped being in my head so much. I’m just letting the energy flow through me and that’s exciting.”