There are a lot of touring bands that might be jealous to hear that Dan Smith, under the musical alias of “Listener,” tours with a washing machine, a rarely seen amenity in the lives of musicians. Yet ol’ Danny isn’t washing his clothes with it. He’s beating the crap out of it with a sledgehammer on stage. Needless to say, the spoken-word jams that Dan refers to as “Talk Music” are different than any other in his genre. One would assume that between Bradley Hathaway and mewithoutYou there would be little room left for creative expansion in the Christian spoken-word music scene. Yet what sets Listener apart is that he doesn’t simply record music, he records life.
“You have never lived because you have never died,” Listener boldly claims with the first track of his latest release, Wooden Heart. Such bluntness comes as no surprise to the fans that have supported Listener since the project’s inception 8 years ago. Their 2008 release, Return to Struggleville, is a passionate telling of the lives of people from different walks of life, addressing problems such as unemployment and alcoholism- “He’s been out of work for months, but still dresses for the office and kisses his wife goodbye, and heads for his park bench.” Listener doesn’t simply spout off cheesy love stories set to generic melodies. His faith is clear in his lyrics, yet Listener won’t be making his way onto mainstream Christian radio anytime soon- he’s too honest.
Listener’s grassroots style of travel is nothing short of communal. With a few companions and an RV, Dan introduced his music to the world through house shows with potlucks, rather than simply playing clubs and bars. He followed up later with 2 European tours and a run in Japan as well. Now a fan favorite at Cornerstone, his music is spreading more rapidly than ever, and for good reason.
Wooden Heart has an instrumentation that sets it well above previous Listener releases. The songs are well constructed. Even the emotional Return to Struggleville fell a little bit short in the area of musical composition, seeming at times to simply be poetry with background music. But that shortcoming is nowhere to be found on the new record. Listener instrumentalist Chris Nelson’s orchestrations of horns, guitars, and drums (heck, even a banjo) are brilliant musical arrangements, even aside from the vocals. To top it off, Smith blows us away with his best lyrics yet, presented with more stylistic diversity than he has ever demonstrated.
Dan Smith provides for his listeners not only entertainment, but inspiration. The love he has for the people represented in his songs is evident, and the more one listens to his music, the more that that love seeps in through the ears and trickles down to the heart. The closing lyrics of Wooden Heart are a pristine reflection both of Listener’s message, and his bright future: “There is something coming, and everything matters, so guard your heart, and watch the wind.”