Arts Desk

Democrats Need to Make Better Music if They Have Any Hopes of Bouncing Back

New York's 8th Congressional District, which encompasses the West Side of Manhattan and the southern tip of Brooklyn, is one of the most reliably Democratic in the entire U.S. House of Representatives. But if the musical stylings of the staff of Rep. Jerrold Nadler are any indication of political viability, the Republican Party might want to consider trying to pick off the 11-term congressman in next year's elections.

A staffer in one of Nadler's district offices, Danny Ross, sent us a press release advertising his side project—he's a singer. Excuse me, "Brooklyn-based artist" backed by a nine-piece band "regularly headlining" the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side. And he'll be making his D.C.-area debut on Sunday at Iota in Arlington.

Sigh.

Now, we don't mind that a congressional flack has a band. Heck, sometimes journalists like to pick up instruments, too, even if the history of such endeavors is a bit spotty. But Ross isn't some Hill staffer or middle-aged cartoonist goofing around at the National Press Club or the Italian seaside. He purports to be the real deal. Just read the first paragraph of his bio:

"Melding lyrical sincerity with ambitious arrangements and pure imagination, Danny Ross builds a sound that's completely his own, and yet awfully familiar. Like some refreshing hybrid of McCartney's sophisticated 60s pop, Springsteen's American rock n roll, and Ryan Adams' alt-country twang. And like his heroes, he somehow retains a uniquely identifiable voice."

I tried to listen to his debut album, Danny Ross Presents One Way, which is being promoted in his "breakthrough year of 2011," even though it came out in 2009. There was nary a hint of Macca's sophistication or The Boss' American grandeur. There were echoes of Adams' folk-rock it-boy bullshit, but that's the kind of bullshit Adams does best. That "uniquely identifiable voice"? Nope, it's not there either. For 13 tracks—or at least the seven or eight I was able to slog through—Ross is at best a pantomimer, offering up cheap imitations of yes, sometimes Springsteen or Adams, but more often tones of Bono or Ben Folds. Worse still: On at least one track he sounds an awful lot like Billy Joel, that scourge of good taste and Long Island Expressway medians.

In the opener "Sleepy Dream," Ross tries to go all "Jungleland" on us with violin solos and twinkly piano-playing. Except "Jungleland" is a 10-minute epic about love, violence, and poverty. "Sleepy Dream" is a three-minute ditty about, I guess, giving up and going to bed. But that's what Democrats do best anyway, right?

On the third track, the keyboarding turns to a skippy, late-'90s alt-rock beat matched by a few trumpets. Hey, Danny? Ben Folds called. He wants his piano back. And the fourth song, Ross transforms again. "Forgive Me Love," spends its final minute stealing lengthy chunks of The Edge's riff from "Pride (In the Name of Love)."

Skip ahead to track No. 10, and there's finally another attempted whiff of E Street. "This Is Just a Test" opens with a long sax solo that leads into those dreaded Billy Joel vocals. Look, it's clear Ross thinks simply having a saxophonist in a big lineup makes him just like the Bard of Asbury Park. It doesn't. And Clarence Clemons just died. What the fuck, man?

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Ross says the rest of Nadler's office has been supportive of his endeavors. But if the mostly-borrowed and undercooked treacle on Danny Ross Presents One Way is the best the Democratic Party in one of the most Democratic pockets of the whole country can muster, there's a real opening for a Republican-fronted band.

Danny Ross plays Sunday at 8 p.m. at Iota, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. $12. (703) 522-8340. Even if you're one of Representative Nadler's summer interns, you can do better.

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  • F. Lombardo

    Mr Freed,
    You are going to have to acquire a more cultured aesthetic if you wish to be taken seriously as a music critic. Billy Joel's music is vastly superior to any of the other artists whose names you dropped in this review. "That scourge of good taste" is easily the best musician you've compared this congressman with.
    Your 'indie-wear' is showing.

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