Chris Denny and the Goldenbirds
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Chris Denny and the Goldenbirds

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Christopher Denny: 'Heart's On Fire'


Christopher Denny: 'Heart's On Fire'

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NPR.org, November 13, 2007 - With a worn but graceful voice, Christopher Denny sings as though he's lived through more than the average 23 year old. The Little Rock, Ark. musician spent some time in Dallas and Chicago, playing sidewalks and bars, while writing powerful songs that recall traditional folk and Americana. But his distinctive and strong voice sets him apart from most singer songwriters.

Denny's album, Age Old Hunger, is a refreshing take on Southern honky-tonk. While his songs express a rural setting, his voice and writing owe much to both Roy Orbison and Jeff Buckley. Denny's band, the Old Soles, supports his vocals with crisp, full-on gospel instrumentation. On the opening bars to "Gypsy into a Carpenter" Denny lures listeners with an incredibly captivating voice, while Marcus Lowe and Chris Atwood soon follow with solid drums and a warm organ tones. "Time" presents a simple melody and sincere lyrics about learning and moving on.

Denny's album, released on 00:02:59 Records, has caught the attention of a few major label executives. He recently met with Columbia Records executive Rick Rubin to talk about his music. But Denny is trying to stay grounded. He tells Little Rock magazine Localist, "You have to be a little skeptical with big labels now, because they're a little desperate." - National Public Radio


Christopher Denny
A National Treasure Just Waiting To Be dug up and buried by more women

There is a story that Christopher Denny’s friend tells about the young Arkansas songwriter that probably only affected the lad on a subconscious level and yet it may have been as oddly life-changing as it was told to have been. He’d seen Denny playing live numerous times, always wowing with that voice that is enriched with the ghost of Roy Orbison and the ghosts that Bob Dylan dances and co-writes with, but never working out the performance aspect that should go along with sounds. Here was a guy who had been touched by that dust, the gold stuff that is potent and scarce, and he wasn’t the part. ... [Story Continues Below]
He was a vector, just an agent of this miraculous talent, living with his words when he wanted to, when they came to him at the fishing hole or when the room hung thick with cigarette smoke, but not in front of the people that they were being played to. All of this changed with Denny went and got inked up with tattoos for all to see, said his buddy. Like a light switch, he was a man, a REAL man who embodied all of the heartbroken, tears in beers songs that he wrote into the forms of modern day classics before they had time to catch their breaths or to wipe the birth gook off of their little song bodies. At a Hot Freaks party during the South By Southwest Festival, Denny had his favorite short-brimmed hat (one Keith Richards and Johnny Depp would applaud him for) on, jean shorts that had been sloppily converted from their former state and boots that I believe are called frog stompers where he’s from — and he was raring. Everything did match. He looked like the Tom Sawyer figure that he was cut out to be, one that could have easily been seen with a twig of straw hanging out of the corner of his mouth, but with a set of pipes and a writer’s intuition that soon enough will be recognized as timeless. He’s always been that boy from the country – humble and polite – but he now had a little bit of the visible snake bite that could serve as proof that these things had really happened to him – that love had been a cruel swordsman, brandishes and stabbing without warning and often times from out of the blind spot. He took on that appearance of a man who had been violently wronged by a woman – a creature that pretends to be meek and lovely, to be helpless and caring only to strike venomously to paralyze and disable whenever the breeze blew her way wrongly. He probably kicked something hard, probably cursed a lot, probably moped a little bit and then he probably got around to missing her, just as if she’d never done anything objectionable to him. It’s how those women hit us like toms, beat us into believing that they could never, would never harm the way that they’ve already done or that they – as a gender – have been reputed to do with malice, cold and calculated and unsuspecting. What better things to get all burnt up inside about than the whimsies of women – the black hearts of them when they’re wearing all white – and their ability to circle back around, rally the pulse again, get men to believe that they’ve changed enough to let them back in only to find new ways to perform the same old trick. Denny makes sure to get across on Age Old Hunger that he’s always willing to stick his neck out for love, that he’s always willing to try it on for size. He’s never found love or the tenderness of it to be deplorable. Some things are just what they are maybe. Some things need to be tart and so teeth-breakingly, chokingly sweet to be what they really are and Denny couldn’t be a better interpreter. He makes love feel like a raging wildfire, the Arctic Ocean, a sucker punch and a vaccine. He makes it feel like no matter the setbacks, no matter what the potential drawbacks could possibly be, you should cannonball right into the deep end. He makes it feel like you took a nasty spill on a gravel road and you’re sitting along the ditch picking dusty rocks from your skin. He also makes it feel like this weird rebirth, the one that we’ve always longed for post-crisis. He will turn you cathartic if you allow it to happen. - daytrotter.com


Christopher Denny is off in a world of his own, which some might call Arkansas and others might call country. In promo photos, he sports a soul patch and overalls. On his debut album, Age Old Hunger, he writes songs about westbound trains and hearts on fire and feeling all burned up inside, which he sings in a voice pitched somewhere between the winnowy whine of Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the more forceful yodel of Slim Whitman. His is a distinctive instrument that would sound right at home on a low-signal Ozark radio station 40 or 50 years ago, but sounds out of time and out of place in the here and now-- such that his voice may prove an insurmountable hurtle for many listeners. Denny acknowledges these influences and others: He credits his teenage discovery of Lefty Frizzell and Hank Thompson with inspiring him to write songs, and on Age Old Hunger he covers popular, some might say obvious songs by Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash. To his credit, however, he never comes across as a nostalgia act, which for this genre would be excruciating. Rather, he is content to sound like he sounds.

That he can make all these elements work so well-- and on a debut, no less-- is a considerable accomplishment. It helps that his backing band, the Old Soles, aren't afraid to rough his songs up a little. With Denny leading on guitar and harmonica, the rhythm section of Chris Atwood and Marcus Lowe give these songs backbone, while Robbie Crowell adds flourishes of Hammond and barrelhouse piano. They can hold back on a ballad like "The Stars Above and My Heart in Your Hands" or cut loose on romps like the instrumental "Goin' Home" and the ecstatic "Time". They quicken the tempo on Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone", making it slightly more upbeat, but Denny's vocals still sell the misery and loneliness. They take fewer liberties with Kris Kristofferson's "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)": The Old Soles make the song sound like an unmade bed while Denny delivers a gently soulful performance that suggests an intuitive understanding of the lyrics as well as perhaps a very personal history with them.

Little Rock is far enough removed from any other scene-- Memphis is two boring hours down I-40, Dallas and Jackson even further-- that an artist like Denny can flourish in relative solitude, developing his own sounds and styles apart from everyone else. Granted, technology now allows the dissemination of all sorts of music to every corner of the country, including the foothills of the Ozarks, blurring the regional distinctions that once defined Denny's heroes. Nevertheless, he comes across as an industry outsider, not just in the way he sings but even in the way his songwriting makes virtues of southern simplicity and downhome directness.

Denny flirts with misogyny on the evil woman blues "Gypsy Into a Carpenter", whose accusations and condemnations sound jarrring on Age Old Hunger, especially for an album opener. But he quickly rights himself. On "All Burned Up" and "Heart's on Fire", he teases nuance from the pain of romantic uncertainty. "When am I gonna realize I realize I really, truly do care?" he sings on "When Am I Gonna Realize?" "When will I realize love is right here?" "Westbound Train" is a gospel-stoked love song in which Denny tenderly testifies to love's stabilizing power. When the westbound train he and his lover are riding stops near where he once lived, he remarks, "That place don't feel much like home anymore/ Darling, you feel much more like home to me." The song's Dylanesque cadence and straightforward sentiment, like the rest of Age Old Hunger, sound sincere and even daring.
- Pitchfork


An ACL afternoon with Rodney Crowell, Christopher Denny

Rodney Crowell casually sauntered onstage in shades and fisherman hat, offered a lazy smile and launched into an amiable set of songs about ideal women and the men who can't have them. Middle aged coots in hats and khakis were in heaven, hooting and hollering at every bittersweet lyric.

Crowell was accompanied by two multi-instrumentalists, and the early part of his set was easy to digest and full of expectedly wry observations.

Less predictable was Christopher Denny, an Arkansas boy with a voice you've got to hear to believe. It's like a tremulous mix of Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison. Seriously.

Joey Guerra
Christopher Denny shines even from the right side of the stage.

Denny is an odd character. He wore dirty jeans tucked into boots, a pearl-snap shirt and a bandana around his neck. He stood to the right side of the stage throughout the performance, letting guitarists take the center mark. And his hair was styled into a big, messy pompadour.

"Y'all like my hair?" he asked. "I got right out of the shower and stood in front of a fan."

He told the crowd his band broke up "about a month ago," so he quickly assembled a scruffy set of Austin players to flesh out his rootsy, rock-inflected sound. The songs were sweet, solid and immediately made me want to buy his record.

Denny's gorgeously quavering voice won't quickly be forgotten. It's probably too odd a sound to hope for a real breakout -- but it was undeniably riveting.

Posted by Joey Guerra at September 26, 2008 02:05 PM
Comments - Houston Chronicle Hand Stamp blog


Review
By
Mike Burr

The discussion about Christopher Denny is always going to be about his high lonesome warble. Like Bob Dylan or Tom Waits, the twenty-three-year-old Arkansan's tone and delivery dominate his songs, and there will doubtless be those who accuse him of not being able to sing. But Age Old Hunger, a heartfelt homage to the country music of the Deep South, is a provocative opening statement from an undeniably talented songwriter with the potential to craft melodies and lyrics as distinctive as the voice he uses to sing them.



The two covers nestled in unassuming slots near the end of Age Old Hunger give subtle clues to both Denny's aspirations as a songwriter and to the artists that influenced him. Much like Dylan showing admiration for artists by covering them on his early albums, Denny ably interprets Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" and Kris Kristofferson's "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)." Both songs deal with loss, and Denny is able to convey the songwriters' heartbreak with a feeling beyond his years. Each track fits well into the scheme of the album, but it is with Denny's own interpretations of those themes that Age Old Hunger makes it greatest impact.



The nine originals are simple in their construction but contain a sly lyrical complexity. Opener "Gypsy into a Carpenter" starts with basic guitar and piano chords that Denny overlays with imagery reminiscent of Blood on the Tracks. By the time the snare drum has kicked in and Denny has observed that his "socks have already been worn by some other guy," a Hammond organ offers a perfect musical counterpoint to the restrained tale of woe. The album segues into "All Burned Up," a country stomper punctuated by Denny's wailing harmonica and raucous lyrical delivery. The song's loose exuberance is matched again on the rollicking "Going Home," where Denny lets his band do most of the work and provides only a simple chorus to punctuate the number.



The rest of the album is quiet in comparison, and Denny proves capable of writing tender lyrics. "Westbound Train," depicts an intimate encounter between two lovers delivered in an understated wail that evokes the both the melancholy feelings of new love and the profound wonder to be found in a simple gesture. Denny shows similar skills in chronicling the end of relationships. Both "When Am I Gonna Realize" and "Heart's on Fire" offer lyrical and heartfelt interpretations of love gone wrong. Denny finds the full power of his voice when he is able to throw himself into a song that seems to have been written from a chapter in his life.



The only misstep is the closer, which gives the album its title. Though the song is of the same lyrical quality as the rest of the tracks, there is something vaguely unsettling about listening to Denny wish that he could "feel things right from my heart like I did when I was younger." Though he attempts to deliver the lyrics with the authority that he shows on other parts of the album, "Age Old Hunger" is just a little bit beyond his reach. Instead of dragging the album down, however, it serves as a reminder that Denny could easily surpass the quality of Age Old Hunger as he matures into his already amazing voice. - prefix magazine


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