DANNY MICHEL CD release with Matt Mays at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), tonight (Thursday, October 2). $12. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Danny Michel is the best parallel parker I've ever met. This may not seem particularly remarkable until you realize he's manoeuvring a massive tour van into a cramped spot beside Trinity-Bellwoods Park in midday Queen West traffic. Those mad parking skillz, he proudly confesses while we're walking away from the boat of a car, are the mark of a man who's been touring with rock 'n' roll bands since he was 18.
It seems like the seasoned singer/ songwriter is constantly on the verge of blowing up. As part of hapless Ottawa power-pop posse Starling, he watched his band get signed to a cool stateside indie label, and gracefully stepped out just before that deal went through the shitter.
He's sustained a quiet solo career since 95, consistently putting out wickedly literate, genre-crossing pop albums that critics drool over.
Although it appeared he'd finally hit a gold mine when his last disc, 2001's In The Belly Of A Whale, landed on a slew of best-of lists, Michel kept his cool and disappeared from the radar. He holed up in the country near Guelph and finally re-emerged this summer with a set of sparkling pop tunes appropriately titled Tales From The Invisible Man. When major Canuck indie MapleMusic Recordings pounced on the impeccably written record, the heretofore label-resistant Michel found himself with a sweet new deal.
"My new analogy is that my career is like an 18-wheeler rig going up a hill," Michel offers philosophically from a park bench. "You know how they have to gear down, get in the right lane, put on their hazards and kinda take it easy? They're still gonna make it - it just takes a while.
"Now, with Maple, it feels like the truck just got lighter and we can switch to another gear."
Michel's sunny outlook reflects the overall tone of the new disc. Where In The Belly Of A Whale was a portrait of a sensitive soul reeling from a brutal breakup (he ended a seven-year relationship while making it), Tales From The Invisible Man shimmers with tempered optimism. Michel's already dealt with the requisite backlash - a few cynical reviewers slagged the disc's unabashed poppiness, accusing Michel of selling his soul for radio play.
"I don't understand that. I went back and listened to In The Belly Of A Whale, and there's so much pop on that! That really burns my ass, that people would think, 'Oh, Danny signed a deal with a label, and now he's making pop songs,' cuz the truth is that I made this record alone, by myself, the way I wanted to, and then the label heard it and signed me.
"It's not my whiny, typical bullshit. I've actually never been happier in my life than I am, like, this week - today - right now. I've been sorting out all the bullshit in life about breakups and emotions, and at the exact same time my career started doing better. Maybe it's my time right now. I got hit by a big karma wave or something."
Michel radiates a striking sense of clarity, both in conversation and in his songwriting. Tales From The Invisible Man may seem less autobiographical, but you still feel like he's coming to terms with his psychic and sonic ghosts, from the wistful Atari-and-8-track teen dreams of Two Hearts to the Madness-tinged Would You Buy A Frame?, which harks back to his days in nascent Ottawa ska outfit the Rhinos.
I'm figuring Michel spends most of his time spinning old Cheap Trick and Tom Waits 45s, so I'm shocked to hear the admittedly pop-culture-ignorant musician's latest obsession is none other than Missy Elliott. "People are always so surprised that I listen to a lot of hiphop," he laughs. "Ron Sexsmith told me he was a huge Eminem fan, and I thought that was so excellent. I'm sure Stephen King doesn't go home and read horror novels. I bet he reads, like, Mad Magazine or something."