Penning ambiguous lyrics seems to have become a trend among many of today’s respected artists. So that’s why when an artist like Danny Shafer builds a successful career — even if it’s locally — on well-written simplicity, it feels like a refreshing change of pace.
Shafer’s newest solo release, Wherever You Are, captures all of the heartfelt musings that the veteran singer-songwriter’s fans have come to anticipate. Lyrics like “Now there’s a working man, he’s out on the street, and I hope he starts that car / There’s women I’ve loved with all my heart and I don’t know where they are” twinge with Neil Young-inspired sentimentality, and others feel like the kind of poetic ruminations that would blossom and fade during a bus ride through open pastureland. And Shafer’s goals when writing a song are as straightforward as his lyrics would suggest; he says his favorite tunes are the ones his audience can easily relate to.
“I like songs that people definitely know what they’re about,” Shafer says. “And [songs about] everyday life; there’s so much beauty in moments, in certain moments in people’s day, and it’s all blowing past us, really. I think artists really focus on those moments and hopefully make them into incredible songs. And hopefully a good song holds its weight over time. That will be a good test for this album too.”
Shafer’s referencing the fact that his latest effort — his first new record in three years and fourth solo effort — is somewhat of a “best of ” compilation chosen from a stockpile of around 400 songs he’s written during the past two decades. Bob Tarantino of Tolstar Productions, whom Shafer met during a gig, had him choose his 30 favorite songs that they would then whittle into a 12-song album. Shafer says he owes a lot to Tarantino, who carefully nurtured each track.
“He had more to do with some of the songs than I did,” he says of Tarantino. “I felt 100 percent comfortable with him helping me out on this project. The label really allowed us to go in and take as much time as we wanted on this record, which is unusual in these times. I felt really fortunate.”
Shafer, who has a background in genres like Americana, country and bluegrass, is known as a musician with an unwavering work ethic. Over the years he’s been involved in a myriad of bands, including Three Fisted Lullaby, Red Glory Ramblers, All Night Honky Tonk All-Stars, The Unknown Americans and The Danny Shafer Band. Currently, in addition to his solo work, he fronts Danny Shafer and the 21st Century, a honky-tonk rock project that features local musicians Chris Ramey, Dechen Hawk, Jubal and Todd May. Though Shafer has probably juggled more musical groups than he could easily recall, he says pushing himself to try new things is essential to his work.
“You gotta keep it changing to a certain extent, like any job or anything that you do, otherwise it loses its appeal to the audiences and to the performer,” Shafer says. “Throughout the years, there comes a time when I have to create something because hopefully I’m growing as a musician.”
Shafer arrived in Colorado in the early ’90s from Chicago and, after living in Boulder and in the mountains for some time, settled in Lyons. He plays around 200 shows a year and frequents local venues like Boulder Theater, the Fox Theatre and Swallow Hill Music Association. Though he’s had ties playing music elsewhere in the Midwest, Shafer calls Colorado home.
“I’m definitely a Colorado musician now,” he says. “Colorado has been really, really good to me, as a musician and as a performer, and there’s so much opportunity to work hard to grow with music fans in this area. It’s been a perfect place to be.”
Shafer will celebrate the release of Wherever You Are with a show on Friday, April 26, at Planet Bluegrass Ranch. The evening will feature a performance by roots band Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys, and members of the 21st Century band will join Shafer onstage for part of his show. And, with the aid of songs that break down barriers of understanding between Shafer and his fans, he says he’ll be happy with the show if he can coax a personal connection out of the crowd.
“I hope that the audience and me, I hope we’re able to get to know each other to a certain extent,” Shafer says. “It’s just me and the microphone, so I want them to talk back to me and me to talk back to them. I want the audience to get up close to the songs.”
ON THE BILL: Danny Shafer plays the Wildflower Pavilion at Planet Bluegrass on Friday, April 26. Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys open. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12. 500 W. Main St., Lyons, 303-823-0848.