Rating: 4-1/2 out of 5 stars
New York-based Americana singer/songwriter Ed Romanoff makes an impressive recording debut with this self-titled CD, offering 10 originals plus a daring cover of a classic country ballad. Fans of Mark Knopfler’s solo work (think “Piper To The End”) will be moved by Romanoff’s gritty, tender delivery and cinematic imagery. Recently topping the European Americana charts, Ed Romanoff was produced by Crit Harmon (Lori McKenna, Mary Gauthier), with backup vocals from Josh Ritter, Tift Merritt, and Mary Gauthier.
Romanoff met Gauthier by chance in a restaurant. The person on his other side wasn’t talking. Gauthier, a fine Louisiana singer/songwriter of brooding, beautiful compositions, became his friend, mentor and collaborator. Sharing a taste for dark stories and well-chosen words, they co-wrote a song, “The Orphan King,” recording it together for Gauthier’s 2010 CD, The Foundling. Gauthier, who was left at an orphanage as a newborn, decided to take a DNA test. Romanoff did, too, out of pure curiosity. That’s when he found out he’d been adopted. As he’s said onstage, “Sometimes you write a song and sometimes it writes you back.”
Opening this set with “St. Vincent De Paul,” he imagines spotting his natural father for the first time on a crowded street. If his friendly, slightly edgy baritone is momentarily pitchy or breathy, it’s because he can’t keep his poetry bottled-up. It spills out in surprising imagery, evaporating, then returning with a slow-burning force. He feels like Moses, floating, “a basket of rushes in a river of men.” “Two Yellow Roses” tells the true story of a friend’s murder. It’s dark stuff but Romanoff’s New York audiences adore it as much as the lonesome “Breakfast For One On the Fifth of July,” in which cymbals evoke a distant roar of fireworks.
Crit Harmon’s production sets an appealing, moody tone with sounds of Wurlitzer organ, rainy synth violins, and fingers sliding on guitar strings. “Lady Luck,” about a fishing boat searching for a missing man, gets a sinister, Spaghetti Western flavor from scratchy cymbals and shadowy tomtoms. Harmon does the same for Patsy Cline’s classic, “I Fall To Pieces” (words and music by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard), showcasing Romanoff’s heartbreakingly frank singing. Another standout is “Sacred Wreck,” about the neediness that can drive writers, and the healing writing can bring. Recommended download: “I Must Have Done Something Right,” about the miraculous endurance of a childhood friendship as told through a wedding toast, will actually make you cringe and laugh at the same time. Ed Romanoff’s debut CD charms through versatile acoustic guitar work, and writing and singing that are both plainspoken and artful.