Daniel Bongart – Dreaming Tree (XAMP-CD04)

I remember getting my copy of Daniel Bongart’s last disc ‘Little Bird’ very succinctly because it was at the Poppelsorfer Street Festival in 2019 – an evening I look back on with happiness and sadness. Seeing my favourite Bonn cover-band Sunny Skies for the last time and hearing founder Rope Schmitz talk with trepidation of an impending hospital visit that he would not survive. There is a picture too on the report I did of that evening’s concert that shows Daniel singing as a part of the band Winterfeld to a smiling white-haired lady with a video camera named Christa who is also no longer with us. I mention all this because I have the same mixed emotions after listening to the lyrics from the songs on Daniel’s new disc – sadness at loss, and happiness at what was, and at what has survived.

Dreaming Tree is produced by Oliver Weiskopf at his Stonehenge Studio in Siegburg. It has a harder sound than you might expect and also a rockier one when compared to the two tracks revisited from the 2019 release – ‘Angel’ and ‘Old Man’ illustrate the change in tone perfectly. There’s less of the folk balladeer and more of the Folk Rocker on the new release, which is not to say that either is better, but there is a difference in approach – the full band sound here finally gives Daniel the opportunity to get on disc the sound that he heard in his head when writing the songs, and a rewarding experience it is too.

Opener ‘Let Your Love Grow’ is an instant way of showing that this release will be a meatier one musically as it kicks off in a rocking style with gritty rhythm from Jens Kimmel’s electric guitar. ‘Her Silhouette’ is much more the gentler sound that we who first heard him at Bonn Folk Club have gotten used to from Daniel. It’s a favourite of mine from his live shows, perhaps because I associate well with his words: “The world seems to turn faster these days. With each day a year goes by…” How very true!

Daniel is a native of Bad Neuenahr and given his sensitivity to soaking up emotions close by it is not surprising that ‘Empty Halls’ should be one of the most touching songs on this disc. The terrible flood which claimed so many lives and so many livelihoods is dealt with in a melancholic but also in a determined, resilient way. Daniel wrote this of ‘Empty Halls’ at the time:

“The song is about powerlessness and grief, but also about courage and confidence to reshape the Ahr valley and to look together into the future. There will remain scars that will always remind us of this catastrophe. However, these scars will not reach as deep as the roots that connect the people of the Ahr Valley with their homeland”.

Track four – ‘The longest night’ is a simple one with melodic piano from Daniel. “There is no beacon, no guiding light, in the longest night”. The song seems almost like a coda to the previous track. A feeling that continues with ‘Memories’. The calm after the storm perhaps?

‘Angel’ also first made an appearance on ‘Little Bird’ and benefits from the rockier fundament that a full band accompaniment brings. There is a nice segue in the middle that breaks out again as Michael Semmler’s thumping bass brings it back to rock tempo alongside Jens Kimmel’s guitar. A word of praise to both men who could easily overload Daniel’s quiet style but restrain themselves admirably to embellish rather than dominate the melodies throughout ‘Dreaming Tree’

I think ‘Old Man’ might have been the first self-penned song Daniel ever played for us at Bonn Folk Club way back in 2015. It was moving then as a purely acoustic guitar piece. In its latest incarnation, the song rocks out at the end as if in celebration of the life that the old man lived. ‘Dreaming Tree’ is, compared to the previous number, a new song from Daniel, but with Covid and other turmoil these past years it’s turned up (I’m happy to say) in a number of Daniel’s concerts and finally become the title track of his new disc. A very well-chosen title too – Daniel’s music really does have a dreamlike quality about it – even when electric guitars are mixed in.

The final track of a fine and sensitive collection is ‘We’ll meet again’. No, nothing to do with the Vera Lynn wartime classic. Daniel’s protagonist seems, as with so many of his songs, to have very specific people in mind yet touches on universal sentiments that move us all. The song is an emotional one for anyone who has ever lost a loved one and ends with a determined flourish as Carola Heyden’s cello sweeps into the mix to close not just a song of great emotional intensity but also an album of it. That feeling of happiness for what has been and is, yet sadness at what has gone forever.

In researching for this review I took a walk down Folk-Club’s memory lane via earlier reviews featuring Daniel. How confident the “Nervous voice” has become that I remembered from his rendition of Elton John’s ‘Daniel’ in 2015; until, following his appearance in April of 2018, I was suggesting that “it won’t be long until there will also be a stack of CDs to buy after the show as well”. The nervous voice has gone and the CDs have come. Enjoy!

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