If you didn’t see a current picture of Daniel Donato, you’d swear he grew up in the parking lot of Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters sometime in the mid-‘70s, busking between Flying Burrito Brothers sets and palming spare joints from Willie and mushrooms from the Dead.
The 25-year-old Nashville native goes full on Cosmic Cowboy with his wildly compelling debut LP A Young Man’s Country. His influences are as obvious as they are varied: Outlaw Country, Cosmic Country and liberal amounts of bootleg Grateful Dead shows. The fact that he can take those influences and make a wholly original sound is a massive part of Donato’s charm.
The album includes eight original songs and three inspired covers, including a spirited nine-minute long Dead jam “Fire On The Mountain,” a daunting task that Donato slays thanks in part to his amazing guitar work that he also slathers across all of the other tracks here. There’s also solid covers of John Prine’s “Angel of Montgomery” and Waylon Jennings’ “Ain’t Living Long Like This.” It’s easy for musicians so adept at playing guitar to let it overshadow the vocals, but Donato’s unassuming yet powerful delivery is the perfect balance to his music, complementing without consuming, answering the never before asked question: what would it sound like if Brian May played in Willie Nelson’s Family Band? Donato’s originals are just as noteworthy as the covers, especially the twang-heavy “Diamond In The Rough” or the addictively catchy opening track, “Justice”.
At 25, Donato has already built up legendary status in his native Nashville – a city not hurting for legendary musicians – busking outside music venues long before he was able to legally drink there and scoring a long-term gig sitting in with a house band at the storied honky tonk Robert’s Western World. Thanks to A Young Man Country, the rest of the world finally gets to hear exactly why Donato has been able to stand out in a city teaming with talented musicians.