Artist: Dani McDonnell
Album: Neon’s Callin’
Label: Independence Records
Genre: Swampy-Tonk, Southern Blues, Southern Rock
Back in April when I reviewed Aaron McDonnell’s EP “Lucky Me,” I was completely taken by his harmony vocalist, wishing she had recorded music of her own. Her voice stuck with me for weeks. That profoundly talented harmony vocalist turned out to be his wife, the lovely, Dani McDonnell and she did have music of her own! She released “Neon’s Callin’,” a five-song EP last July, and I have never been so impressed with an album. It’s title comes from a line of “Honky Tonker,” a solo write by her husband, which she just released to Texas radio a couple of weeks ago. If you remember, this same recording of “Honky Tonker” closed out his EP leaving you wanting more of her beautiful voice.
Dani McDonnell is from the Gulf Coast, southeast of Houston, Texas. In an interview with Country Fancast she says that there’s “something about that area that just gives you a little grit. You hear that muddy water in the music. I didn’t realize that that place defined who I am as much as it does.” McDonnell’s grit is what makes her voice so incredibly unique. It stands out and makes itself known, which brings to mind a few ladies with striking voices of their own such as Tanya Tucker, Janis Joplin, and Bonnie Raitt.
Though she credits her husband as being a seasoned songwriter, it seems that she may also be quite the songwriter as well, co-penning two songs on the EP with him “Standing Still” and “Blind Men.” I think the message “Standing Still” tells us is one we all need to hear. It reminds us that our songs are our dreams. “The whole world is movin’ but I’m standin’ still / I’m holdin’ myself back against my own will / The stakes are too high if things go all wrong / If I don’t make a choice I won’t sing my own song.” Only our “songs” are our dreams. McDonnell is right, you won’t get anywhere spinning your wheels standing still. Chase your dreams. Push yourself. Make the most of your life because it’s a gift that can be taken away in an instant.
McDonnell also spits out a truth us women know all too well about inconsiderate, selfish men in “Blind Men.” We’ve all been in a relationship like this with somebody who just doesn’t see their shortcomings. “Everyday I’m workin’ and you don’t get up ‘til three / stay out late not pullin’ your weight and listen to nothin’ I say / and you’re lookin’ in the mirror at the man you chose to be / why don’t you open your eyes and set us both free?” You can’t help but tap your toes as her roots in southern rock, southern soul, and southern blues come through in full force in this gritty swampy-tonk track. It’s not a style I’ve see many women embracing and McDonnell makes a bold statement with it. I applaud her!
In an Instagram post, McDonnell says that she was “completely out of her comfort zone” singing “Louisian Cannonball,” written by producer Tate Mayeux, live for Defining Audacity Radio Show back in December. Her Gulf grit comes through again with this one, making this train song my favourite song on the album. The other solo co-write by husband Aaron is “While I’m Here.” He encompassed the love she clearly has for her home state beautifully. It very obviously has a special place in her heart as her sound is so heavily influenced by the geographical location. I think we all have a place we can relate to when listening to this song. She sends it home with the sounds of Texas to close the EP. She puts you right there in the stillness after the haunting ballad fades out leaving you breathless and surrounded the cicadas. Headphones recommended.
“This is a never-ending search for a sound. I’ve only just begun this journey and am excited to see where it takes me.” McDonnell told Country Fancast at the end of the interview. “I straddle this love for the blues, rock, gospel and country. I think that it will always be a mix of these sounds, but depending on what’s going on, how I’m feeling, and what is most inspiring to me at the time, is what you’ll end up hearing the most.” I don’t know about you, but after listening to her debut EP dozens of times, I cannot wait to see what Dani McDonnell has in store for us next. She may have even given us a little bit of a hint. “I know I’d like to experiment with some accordion and piano in the next go around. My grandmother was amazing at both instruments and it’s very nostalgic for me.” Either way, accordions and pianos, or gritty electric guitars and a steady bass, I know it’ll be fantastic!