Spitzer Space Telescope – Colonies in the Wild Frontier
Some artists are trend setters. Others smash boundaries. Dan MacDonald, songwriting force behind Spitzer Space Telescope, is a solo performer like no other. He’s worked four years on his latest collection, Colonies in the Wild Frontier, only to release it as an app instead of in the traditional album format. There is no MP3 to buy, no compact disc or vinyl album, just an app to buy from your smart phone. There are eight standard performances setting up the release. MacDonald includes a variety of features with the app including alternate video performances of the standard songs set in different times of history and dramatic situations, photographic montages, and other features. MacDonald is behind every performance, despite the vintage style of the footage, and this makes the release, if nothing else, a loving masterpiece of mimicry. It is so much more however. The musical and lyrical content driving the eight standard performances have such a high quality that any listener will be hard put not to respond emotionally. These are wrenching performances and MacDonald has recorded each of them with unsparing clarity.
There are blues influenced songs here are obviously derived and based off field hollers and/or work songs. “99 Years Holler”, “Poor Soldier”, and “Corn Holler” take different subject matters, but the mood remains largely the same throughout each track. There’s a pervading cloud of despair hanging over the characters in all of MacDonald’s songs manifesting itself in different ways and the narrators respond in a variety of desperate ways. The first track comes from the work song tradition while the subject matter of the other two songs is readily implied. The storytelling excellence driving MacDonald’s songwriting is clearest on the songs “In My Garden Grows a Mound” and “Ballad of a Young Cursed Fool”. The former is funereal lament taken at a deliberate tempo, highly structured, and with a strong guitar performance. The latter is a solo vocal performance from MacDonald without any instrumental accompaniment. His gutsy and painfully alive vocal sets fire to the song’s already excellent narrative. The final song, “Five Oaks in a Ring”, seems to come from a much more European tradition than many of the other songs and has transfixing beauty that’s difficult to forget. The song “Crew of the Undyin’” is a narrative built around the sea and full of colorful, dangerous characters and situations. The sort of detail that he brings to this song and the others isn’t possibly attributable to pure imitation. The content is too concrete and MacDonald, ultimately, seems like someone who has so successfully internalized these influences that they emerge from him, full flower, and have a distinctive spin all his own. There is no music release like this in 2016. Colonies in the Wild Frontier has passion, intelligence in both its composition and presentation, and shows an artist at work who can think outside the box in a transformational way. Spitzer Space Telescope has reached its greatest peak yet with this work.
9 out of 10 stars