Daniel Martin Moore is without doubt an ambitious man. Showing the chutzpah to send an unsolicited demo to the offices of Sub Pop? Kudos. Getting signed off such an act? Double kudos. Using such a platform to partner with cellist Ben Sollee to raise funds to prevent mountaintop removal mining in their native Kentucky? Hats off to you, sir. That such ambition could lead one into something of a misstep should be greeted not so much with surprise as with an abiding understanding and gentle encouragement back onto a more productive path. With In the Cool of the Day, Moore essentially bites off more than he can chew (at least at this juncture), and the listener suffers for it.
The album’s guiding theme is Moore’s connection with gospel music from his youth. I’m not an expert on gospel, but when my ear is caught by the stray Mahalia Jackson tune, Rev. Gary Davis ditty, or even Elvis’ spiritual turns, it’s really all about the raw emotion that oozes from the speakers. The treatments given to these gospel classics (and a few Moore originals) are sparse, focusing on Moore’s guitar and piano, with a few bigger flourishes on the more joyful tunes. Unfortunately, this puts his voice in the spotlight, and here, it doesn’t exhibit the kind of brass necessary to do the material justice. Hearing a voice that sounds like a mannered young hipster (no disrespect; mannered young hipsters do just fine in many settings) taking on a song like “Dark Road” is something akin to seeing a Toddlers & Tiaras’ princess take the stage to do “Like a Virgin”: technically, the song is being performed, but there’s a huge disconnect at a gut level.
While I’m certain that this mode will suit Moore in his future indie folk material that is sure to come, In the Cool of the Day naturally goes from inoffensive to mildly irritating fairly quickly through repeated spins. Rather than revealing hidden charms, its lack thereof becomes increasingly more apparent. It pains me to feel this way about anyone with a degree of talent pursuing something personally meaningful, but not all passion projects hit their marks. Here’s to better luck next time.