03 October 2022
Gratitude is the fifth solo album for California singer-songwriter Dan Imhoff. Wait, that doesn’t do this creative artist justice. Imhoff is also an activist, a podcaster, and the author of ten nonfiction books about farming, conservation, and eco-design., the latter of which play in just slightly to the uplifting music found here. Most of these songs were written during the pandemic lockdown and even though there’s a distinct roots-rock thread running through them, the album was recorded in Spain with a host of Spanish musicians. As it turns out, Imhoff lives in Spain part-time and often records there. The album was recorded in two separate studios, outside of Valencia and Girona, with two different teams.
Imhoff calls his songwriting “cosmic gospel.” Cosmic references the roots of northern California tradition of folk rock, blues, and jazz but performed by Spanish musicians. Gospel indicates that most of the songs have strong background choruses and rich harmonies. Imhoff confesses to the fact that most of these songs took a long time to write as it took a while to get to that place mentally and emotionally when optimism would flow naturally. We could have used these hopeful tunes during those weary pandemic months, but joyous music never arrives too late. The hook in the titular opener is infectious from the outset. “There There” is a snappy mid-tempo tune that alludes perhaps to the struggle in the writing process (“Gotta find a way to keep believing”).
“When a Great Tree Falls” employs a great use of echo effects and likely points to his environmental activism, coupling sequoias in his native Northern California with this teeming chorus “Will we be strong enough to fight for what we believe?”) The lightly strummed, banjo infused “Coming Into View” rings with the insistent chorus “Love is the only game.” The perky, jug band-like “So Good To Be a Dog” hits at a thought most of us have likely had as we admire the oft-relaxed state of our favorite pet. There’s a similar tongue-in-cheek vibe to the piano ballad “Why I Drink The Wine” suggesting it’s “to get closer to Jesus.” Although there are some common threads to Imhoff’s lyrics, no two songs sound alike as he adeptly shifts tempos and instrumentation.
Case in point is “Dark Side,” another mostly acoustic tune, but one where the lyrical tone shifts too. He’s being honest. Even the most upbeat people have moments of sadness and frustration. This kind of balancing act, which he turns to again later on “Crazy Town” of course, gives the uplifting tunes even more impact, such as the inspiring, celebratory nature song, “Lie Down With the Wild Things.” He follows with an ode to the comfort of his part-time home in “Accidentally Valencia.” Bassist Jaume Guerra Menue, the co-writer of “Factory of Tangled Dream,” adds a jazzy touch to the carefree tune. Following the bleak “Crazy Town” it’s only fitting that Imhoff end on a high note, and though he points to ultimate satisfaction in “Angel Touching Down” he does so pensively, not with the rollicking hooks heard on some of the tunes, but it is the most vocally expressive tune of the strong dozen he penned.
Imhoff paints hope as a goal one must attain. It’s not readily available to those who don’t struggle and aren’t stoic when called for. When earned however, it’s rewarding. As the title suggests, he’s thankful and we should all share in that glee at least for a few moments. We’ve made it through the difficult pandemic months but just the same, we’re living in troubling times and should remain on guard.
Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and Country Standard Time. He has also written for Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live music host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.