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Crazy songs that people write

Stewart Oksenhorn
Colorado singer-songwriter Danny Shafer performs at a CD release party for his new album The Good The Bad and the Red Glory Ramblers at Steves Guitars in Carbondale tonight at 8:30 p.m.
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On his new album “The Good The Bad and the Red Glory Ramblers,” Colorado singer-songwriter Danny Shafer honors his heroes – and explores the idea of heroism itself – on “Crazy Things That People Do.” Over just his own picking on an acoustic guitar, Shafer mentions a diverse lot of idols: Muhammad Ali, George Washington, Jackie Gleason, the Wright Brothers and, harking back to his childhood as a rabid Cubs fan, Ernie Banks. Shafer wrote the song just in time to record it for “The Good The Bad and the Red Glory Ramblers,” and it is already announcing itself as a favorite in the songwriter’s repertoire.”It’s about all the ways my heroes, my role models, lived at risk to become the way they are,” said Shafer, who celebrates his new album with a CD release party tonight at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale. “I have no shortage of role models, heroes. People say we’re out of heroes – that’s ridiculous. Muhammad Ali. The Wright brothers – come on, they’re out of control. They tried to fly! Just saying that makes me laugh.”Rather conspicuous in its absence is any mention of musicians. But the song – inspired, in fact, by a phone conversation with fellow singer-songwriter Melanie Hersch as Hersch was driving over the George Washington Bridge – sticks to those whose achievements amount to more than a three-minute tune.”Being a songwriter – what’s the risk there?” said Shafer by phone, while enjoying a sunny day outside his local coffee shop in Gold Hill, outside of Boulder. “I can’t compare myself to these people in history. Yeah, the schedule’s crazy; it’s an unusual lifestyle. But what’s the risk there?”

While Shafer’s self-assessment doesn’t put him in the company of our first president and the inventors of flight, he is hardly ready to put down the occupation of songwriter. At 37, and with 21 years playing professionally under his belt, Shafer remains as much a fan as a player of music. He reveres the likes of John Prine and Townes Van Zandt, and has words of praise for younger lights like his old roommate Kreg Viesselman and Rebecca Hoggan of Colorado bluegrass band Hit & Run (both of whom appear on “The Good The Bad and the Red Glory Ramblers”). And over the course of the conversation, Shafer homes in on a singer-songwriter – Steve Forbert, who happened to play recently at Steve’s Guitars – who might rank as a role model.”Man, what an example of a guy who has remained an artist throughout his life,” said Shafer. “I hope to have anything like that stamina.”I don’t know what else I’d do.”

Visitors to dannyshafer.com are greeted with the banner headline, “Danny Shafer Songwriter.” Aside from the obvious answer, that he writes songs, what is it that Danny Shafer aims to do?Shafer mentions that he always listening for turns of phrase that express an idea in a novel way. Simplicity is essential to his vision of the ideal song. Melody is always on his mind. But most important is that he put things – lyrically, musically, even in his onstage personality – in a way that allows listeners to get inside the song.”I want people to see a show and say, ‘I know what that song’s about. I know what that song’s about,’ ” he said. At the same time, Shafer doesn’t want to relay exactly what those songs are about. “But also give the audience a little intellectual responsibility to figure out what the song is about on their own.”And while the “songwriter” label can connote someone who has only weighty things to say, Shafer balances his serious side with the more fun-loving. “The Good The Bad and the Red Glory Ramblers” opens with “Barbecue,” a country-swing tune, heavy on Eric Moon’s honky-tonk piano, that doesn’t exactly scream “songwriter.”

“You want to write about serious subjects, but still have a sense of humor,” said Shafer. “John Prine is a master at that. You have some guys who are real heavy, and they’re good at that. But for me, music is entertainment. It’s not reading a book.”While he generally tours as a solo act (and will appear by his lonesome in Carbondale), Shafer lets loose his rocking side in two standing bands: the three-piece Red Glory Ramblers, which he calls an “extreme Americana” band, and the All Night Honky Tonk Allstars, co-fronted by Rebecca Hoggan and guitarist Greg Schochet.Shafer’s songs haven’t been getting out into the world with quite the regularity he would prefer. His last album, “The Danny Shafer Band,” dates back to 1999. Shafer went to record a solo follow-up, but was displeased with the sound he was getting at a friend’s home studio, so he scrapped the project and took a nine-month break from the studio before re-recording “The Good The Bad and the Red Glory Ramblers.” Now, in addition to a new album, Shafer has had two of his songs recorded by Hit & Run. And if Hit & Run lands the major record deal they are working toward, Shafer’s stature as a songwriter could be raised a few notches.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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