Daniel in Mary's Den

Another female singer-songwriter emerges from the shadows

This is a story about Jolynn Daniel. I repeat: Jolynn Daniel. It is not about Mary Karlzen. I repeat: not about Mary Karlzen.

Some confusion is inevitable. Daniel has been more or less operating in Karlzen's shadow ever since Daniel fled Des Moines, Iowa, less than a year ago with "$300, a suitcase, and a guitar." Both artists write and perform radio-ready, acoustic-guitar-driven pop with country and folk accents, and Daniel has been known to open shows for Karlzen (such as their warmly received New Year's Eve double bill at Tobacco Road). But Daniel is hoping to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight with the release of her six-song CD, suspended, on Miami-based Rebel Sky Music.

Lured by South Florida's low crime rate, uncongested highways, abundance of high-paying jobs, and vibrant original rock music scene, Daniel found it impossible to resist the siren call of the Sunshine State. After all, what better place for an aspiring female singer-songwriter to ply her trade? (With the possible exception of cities whose names begin with vowels or consonants.) Isn't Miami known the world over for its loving embrace of original rock, especially that which emphasizes introspective lyrics over flash and has a beat you can't easily dance to? Isn't that why Michelle Shocked, Lucinda Williams, and Kelly Willis have done so well when visiting down here while Gloria Estefan and Madonna encounter difficulty selling out gigs at Ted's Hideaway? (Although the impending release of the latter two's MTV Unplugged albums might finally win them a few fans in Dade County.) One could scarcely imagine a down-home gal like Jolynn Daniel considering any other destination.

Karlzen blazed the trail Daniel is following: In just a few short years she rose from humble bassist in an all-female folk-rock band to solo Orange Bowl headliner. Karlzen's recently released debut CD on Atlantic Records, Yelling at Mary, features guest performances by heavyweights such as Jackson Browne, Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), and David Hidalgo (Los Lobos). Confidential sources at the Enquirer recently informed me that Mary Karlzen is O.J.'s favorite new artist. (Or was that Marilyn Manson? I always get them confused.)

The parallels between Jolynn Daniel's career and Karlzen's extend way beyond the two of them being level-headed distaff troubadours with Midwestern roots who happen to be releasing CDs within three weeks of each other. Yelling at Mary hit the street the last week of January; suspended officially bows today with a release party at Rose's. (For one thing, Daniel never uses uppercase letters in her titles or lyrics.)

Suspended features the same crack rhythm section -- Jose Tillan on bass and Derek Murphy on drums -- utilized by Karlzen to record Hide, the independently released CD (from Y&T Records) that was in no small part responsible for bringing Mary to Atlantic's attention. Jansen Press, once a member of Karlzen's touring band, co-produced suspended and doubles as Daniel's lead guitarist. Another former Karlzen bandmate, bassist Mitch Mestel, was recruited for Daniel's live gigs, which included opening slots for Michelle Shocked, Guy Clark, and Loudon Wainwright III.

For all the similarities in personnel and musical styles, Daniel's CD doesn't sound much like Karlzen's. Daniel's voice is throatier and less little girly than Karlzen's, which should appeal to people who find that latter characteristic of Karlzen's annoying though it'll disappoint those who consider it a big part of Mary's charm. Daniel's songs are neither as loping as Karlzen's ballads nor as snappy as her uptempo material. The notable exception is "thrown by you," which could be Daniel's "I'd Be Lying" (the first single from Yelling at Mary).

Suspended is darker by several shades than Yelling. Consider these lines from "the knife": "i give it a shot/i give it all i got/ what is it, what is life/just the knife in my back." But there's some of that same underlying spunk that characterizes Karlzen favorites like "Everybody's Sleeping." In "thrown by you" Daniel sings: "Now i am all alone/nobody else to own up to/i can wander i can roam/and i can choose not to be thrown by you."

Daniel's backing band, the Gray Area, is aptly named. Her songs are neither zippity-doo-dah cheerful nor wrist-slitting bleak. This could be a liability. Sanity is not a quality much revered in songwriters today. But Daniel can't help it. Her long suit is grace. Her songs come from the heart and eschew shock value and flash. Daniel's "head over heels" is not likely to be confused with Liz Phair's "Fuck and Run" any time soon.

So the question is: What implications -- if any -- will Karlzen's success have for Daniel? Will Mary's ascent to the national stage ease the way, or will Jolynn Daniel be written off as Mary Lite? Likely suspended will end the suspense.

Jolynn Daniel celebrates the release of suspended at 11:00 tonight (Thursday) at Rose's Bar and Music Lounge, 754 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 532-0228. Admission is free.

 
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