There’s a song called Golden Rain on Kris Dane’s new album Rose Of Jericho – the final missing piece to his Brooklyn trilogy of long players which includes Songs Of Crime and Passion and Rise and Down of the Black Stallion – where he opines “since I heard your name, nothing is quite the same” and you think you’re in the presence of a love song. Dane’s velvety intonation augments the illusion but when he sings “black lover go to bed cos everything has been said” you realise there’s something else going on. He explains that the song is about addiction, “about the attraction to things that are bad, a secret love that doesn’t fit into your life – twice a year you might go to that black side, sometimes you feel the need to go down to that big pool of mud.” The song is one of many on the album featuring strings and lush orchestration but it is Dane’s barbed, bitter sweet rhetoric that brings you back to the chase: welcome to the world of Kris Dane where nothing is quite as it seems.
Of course, we should start with a few salient facts. Raised in Antwerp, Dane is one of four brothers who were all encouraged to attend music school at a young age. Dane had classical training, learning violin and drums and playing Bartok and Mozart on the piano. In fact he says now that his parents never listened to the Beatles or the Stones once but “they did have a double album by Harry Belafonte and one by Leonard Cohen and I loved them both.” He chose to reject his classical training and joined the emerging Deus on drums and piano though even this proved disheartening as he felt in his heart that he was a composer. A brief spell in Manic Depression followed before a move to Ghent and then Brussels spawned the Tim Buckley-tinged acoustic album Fe Is A Male Mystic in 1997 and Boys, 26 in 1999 both on jazz label Carbon 7.
At the start of the new millennium Dane toured the world’s opera houses – from South Korea to Norway – for three years, singing and performing two adapted operatic versions of Tom Waits’ Frank’s Wild Years and The Black Rider albums. He reveals that he “didn’t try to sound like Tom Waits, I just drank whisky and smoked cigarettes” and that the distorted, organic performances involved detuned pianos, and a megaphone pointed towards upside down radio microphones. Waits gave his blessing before Dane moved on (in 2003) to record the conceptual double album Private Lee The Alphabet – an acoustic, electronic, experimental collection of some note – featuring some guest performances with members of Ghinzu, a band who Dane toured with (playing European Festivals with Iggy Pop and Marilyn Manson amongst others) for the next two years. The tour was to prove a watershed for Dane as he finally realised he needed to compose alone.
Post Ghinzu, Dane began visiting and playing residencies in New York and it’s here that he produced Songs Of Crime and Passion, a record he describes – with typical alacrity – “as a minimalistic, dark and mystic, straight to the heart kind of poetry which was after all my greatest strength. I wanted to breathe in my own particular way. There is a time to bring out the message, pure and wrinkled, based on the story of death and rebirth, back from birth to death.” If anything, the follow up, Rise and Down of the Black Stallion, was even more personal and contained a song – From Here To Grace – that has an astonishing backdrop: Dane was due to play the Botanic in Brussels when he was informed by security that one of his fans – a girl – had been sleeping in the park opposite the venue for three nights. “The venue paid for her to stay in a hotel for the night before the gig,” Dane explains now, “and then they told me that she had walked a thousand miles from Prague because she thought I was some kind of visionary. When I started the gig I saw her at the front dressed like a pink fairy with pink hair and high heels like something from a David Lynch movie. She handed me three dolls that she’d made for me but I didn’t know what to do with them and anytime anything went wrong in my life my family and friends blamed it on the dolls. I ended up writing a song about her and the dolls as a way of dealing with it: “3 little puppets in a big black hole/3 nights out there in the cold/An angel pure and black as gold/A thousand miles to see your face/A million miles from here to grace.”” Dane reveals that the girl was “sent to an institution in Prague where she sent me emails saying that I was God. Eventually they told her I was dead but the emails kept coming saying she loved me even more now that I was dead.”
Further drama ensues on Rose Of Jericho. The album kicks off with (the aforementioned) Golden Rain before twisting into True Desire – all double beats and vocal melodies – and another song that bears its I-am-not-what-I-seem heart on its sleeve, particularly when Dane hollers “I know your true desire/ I can hear your midnight choir.” The title track – which follows – has a soul/gospel vibe due to its effective use of a sampled choir and the bluesy Sweet On You is our theme writ large: the song is about unfulfillment, “an animal and spiritual connection to someone you may have met only once or twice” and a parallel universe where the disallowed is presumably allowed. There’s more subterfuge on the acoustic ballad Hollywood – “a metaphor, a phoney”, a place where the grass is greener and “whatever your Hollywood is I want to be in it“ – before the gorgeous string-laden I Believe showcases Dane’s luscious Tom Waits-tinged vocals to full effect.
The strings and orchestration on Rose Of Jericho arrive courtesy of Chris Elliot (the man responsible for arrangements on Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black and Adele’s 19 and 21 albums) and they are a significant feature on the country-tinged ballad Run River Dry, a filmic ballad of a male friendship run dry. This song proves the perfect segue into Freebird (about refusing to settle down) and the frankly-beautiful Bound To Please, the penultimate track on the album if not the ultimate word on self assuredness: the song’s antagonist wants to “change my face” but Dane knows he is “only bound to please my soul.” Finally, the album closes with Saturday Night – possibly the least Saturday Night sounding song this side of Sunday morning – where the Little Chicago referred to is a Brussels neighbourhood Dane drives through these days remembering the area as the place where dealers came out after dark but his children used to play during the day. It’s a poignant, heartfelt image that wraps up this memorable album.
Kris Dane is not a one-off but he is part of a select few number of artists who seem to exist outside the realm of the natural order of things. No doubt this state of affairs is due to his unnaturally “forced” musical upbringing or his refusal to compromise both lyrically and musically but, either way, we have much to be thankful for. Dane says he has no heroes – though surely Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits are recalcitrant bedfellows – but he also admits that he doesn’t have a library of great music and if he ever attends a concert he will leave after half an hour since he knows exactly where it’s going. Perhaps it is this therefore that sets him apart: like many great artists, Dane is not a collector or harbourer of other people’s music but instead an artist that follows his own unique artistic vision and a path that is his and his alone. If this is true, then Rose Of Jericho proves to be some kind of destination and ultimately Dane’s swan song.
Phill Savidge, April 2016.