Most people are familiar with the actor Jeff Daniels. Daniels first came to prominence in the 1983 film,
Terms of Endearment and has been working steadily on stage and screen ever since. He’s coming off a particularly big year having won an Emmy for his portrayal of Will McAvoy in the HBO series, The Newsroom and scoring a box office hit with Dumb and Dumber To. But most people aren’t as familiar with Jeff Daniels the musician, an accomplished singer-songwriter and guitarist who been making music for as long as he has been acting.
Playing acoustic guitar and backed by his son’s five piece band, The Ben Daniels Band, Daniels recently took the stage at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts. Daniels played a two hour set of his folksy songs, which range from the silly to the soulful and benefit from his adept finger pickin’ and his solid albeit raspy voice. (Daniels admitted to suffering from the flu.)
Early on in the show, he said to the crowd, ”I bet you’re thinking, he doesn’t suck so far!” And he was probably right, as many in the sold out audience were likely there out of curiosity and were pleased to find out he he’s not just some movie star dabbling in music just because he can, but actually is a talented musician.
You can hear the obvious influence of artists like John Prine and Lyle Lovett in Daniels’ work, but thanks to his son’s band there was traces of rock, country, and even bluegrass to be heard. Daniels first set of the evening drew heavily from his latest album, “Days Like These” his sixth and most stylistically varied work to date. Highlights included The bluesy title track and “There Ain’t Nothin’ New in New York City” in which he speak sings the lyrics (“This is as close to hip-hop as I get”) against Tommy Reifel’s jazzy bass line.
Daniels proved to be an engaging and extremely funny frontman.The actor introduced each song with a story, some about his personal life others focussed on his career. He told of how the pressure he experienced when filming the pilot for “The Newsroom” led to the the writing of “ Now You Know You Can” and how an encounter with a Harley riding preacher inspired “Wicked World.” And when he talked about what he had learned from the Jacks-he was talking about Lemmon and Nicholson respectively.
But he didn’t want the spotlight only on him so Daniels gave the band plenty of room to shine. Be it taking the stage alone with singer Amanda Merte to duet on the poignant ballad, “Back When You Were Into Me, ” or having drummer, Wesley Fritzemeier step out behind the kit to play some mandolin. After a brief intermission The Ben Daniels Band took to the stage to play a couple of selections including the rockin‘ “Rattlesnake.” Then the elder Daniels rejoined them and was clearly ready to have some fun.