Release Date: September 27, 2011
Arts & Crafts; 11 Tracks; CD, LP, DD
Review by: Lee Fraser
Three months ago, the title track of Oh Fortune was released as a preview of Dan Mangan's third and latest full length release. Like the single, the album features a distinctive guitar sound, bold percussion, and more prominent horns and strings.
With the influences of a new label and a bit more road ruggedness under his belt, Dan Mangan is presenting an album for which he has been almost apologetic in introducing to his fans. Having played a few of the new tracks over the past year (and more than a few at very small and intimate surprise show at the Toronto Institute for the Enjoyment of Music this past July), Mangan is always quick to point out that the new album is very different.
Within the first ten seconds of the first song, it becomes clear that this is not your usual Dan Mangan. Dabbling in the sounds of a few different genres, this is an album that flows nicely for the majority of the track to track transitions. A classical waltz blends nicely into a melodic rock song using distortion effects. Haunting horns on a song about death and dying fade out to the sweet intro of an instrumental that turns the mood around and becomes a love song of floral endearments.
There's a greater emphasis on horns and strings than on the previous two albums. Whereas these instruments were used as brief and infrequent accents or vocal accompaniments on both Nice, Nice, Very Nice and Postcards and Dreaming, Oh Fortune has full-out trumpet solos and prominent string instrumentation on a couple of tracks. The string and wind arrangements on "About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All" is reminiscent of a Viennese waltz and the entire track is a luxurious introduction to the album.
The track "Jeopardy" is a nod to both traditional jazz and Mangan's earlier work. The rhythm section softly plucks and brushes a calming beat that has you swaying with a smile on your face. The philosophical and self-involved lyrics are reminiscent of "Fabulous". The series of questions which comprise the lyrics have the effect of garnering grins and nods when played live, especially the line "Have I always been filled with questions?" which even illicits a few giggles.
Other than the crescendo of horns at the end of "Starts With Them, Ends With Us", this song and "Leaves, Trees, Forest" have a celtic flavour. A rolling beat created by guitar and percussion could make for a catchy crowd favourite at upcoming live shows.
There are songs about death and dying, plants, war and the excesses of recent generations. At times, the lyrics mirror the mood created by the music; Mangan sings "Friendly with waves, there were sharks below, hungry for me, so I dangled my legs" as the strings ebb and flow playfully. At other times, the lyrics can steal away your concentration from the music: "I live alone, drink beer by the phone, I know there is hope but I can't look for it".
If you're a fan of Dan Mangan's vocals, the atmosphere he creates with his musical arrangements, and the vivid, personal lyrics found on most tracks of his two previous albums, this album will not seem so different after all. If you've enjoyed songs like "Fair Verona", "Pine For The Cedars", "Don't Listen" and "Fabulous" just as much as (or even more than) the hits, this album will be a treat.
Dan Mangan will play the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on October 28.