Friday, July 15, 2022

The Search for Home: Dan Israel, "Like the Country"

Dan Israel, Like the Country cassette (self-released, 1995)

I forget when and where I got this tape, but I’m pretty sure I met Israel, perhaps at Northwestern or through WNUR-FM after he’d moved from Chicago to Austin. (I’ve emailed him to see how he’s doing these days, and a friend reminded me that they were fraternity brothers at NU.) 

Originally from Minnesota, Israel joined his first band, the Big Madras, in 1986, performing with Dave Paul, who went on to join Guzzard, which recorded for Amphetamine Reptile Records. Israel began playing solo acoustic as a street musician in Boston, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco in the early 1990s. He eventually moved as a student to Chicago, where he co-founded One Town Horse with songwriter Brad Bouten. One Town Horse opened for musicians such as the Drovers and Rev. Horton Heat, and received airplay on WCBR-FM and WNUR-FM, where I volunteered as a DJ between 1991-1996.

By the time Israel self-released this solo acoustic tape, he’d moved to Austin, where he formed the Austin Chronicle-dubbed “ampheta-folk” band Potter's Field, releasing Esperanto and Live at the Outhouse, and going on tour in the Midwest. In 1995, the annual Austin Music Awards poll named Israel one of the top 15 songwriters in Austin—and Israel moved back to Minnesota, where he continued making music. The Chronicle reviewed the tape in September 1995.

I might very well have reviewed this previously in one of my zines from the 1990s, perhaps Karma Lapel or Fifth Man, but I recently pulled it out of a case of tapes to listen to it again with fresh ears. It’s an excellent cassette, and if Israel has indeed continued making music as his Web site suggests—updating his site until just before the pandemic—I look forward to hearing what he’s up to now. I can only imagine how much he’s grown as a songwriter. (Somewhat recent reviews from The Big Takeover and Goldmine suggest his most recent release, Social Media Anxiety Disorder, is worth a listen.)

The almost 30-year-old tape captures seven songs featuring Israel on vocals, acoustic guitar, and harmonica. While One Town Horse played such Chicago venues as Lounge Ax, Cabaret Metro, and the Cubby Bear, I can more easily imagine hearing these songs at somewhere like the Heartland Cafe, No Exit Cafe, or Uncommon Ground Coffeehouse. Even though the songs are slightly more oriented toward power pop than folk at times, the songs are perfect for a small, intimate, folk-oriented setting or open-mic night. And Israel is a singer-songwriter sure to hold your attention.

Sometimes stylistically reminding me of Bob Dylan, Graham Smith, and perhaps even Brett Rosenberg, the songs address topics such as holding someone back, remorse and regret, the search for home, self-discovery, and compromise. Songs might come and go from a musician’s repertoire over the years, but any of these songs would sound great live today. If you get a chance to see him play, request “When the Credits Rolled” for me.

Update: He has a Bandcamp!

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