The Morning Star is the product of various change elements directing themselves at Daniel Bachman. First, the months following the recording and mixing of his 2016 self-titled album saw him physically move from his multi-year residence in the North Carolina Triangle area back to his native Virginia. Next was the 2016 American presidential election. While not an overtly political album, The Morning Star is truly an artist's personal reflection on the chaotic days and nights in America following the revelation of that election's results. Lastly, a focused period of listening, reflection, and space to come down off of a heavy few years of touring created a few changes in Bachman's writing style that took him a period of time to truly feel comfortable with.
Never one to compromise songwriting quality despite his otherwise prodigious output, Bachman's efforts to change things up a bit result in exceptionally patient and mature works such as "Song for the Setting Sun III," a song whose very form would have taken different directions in prior eras. All of these factors combined to leave 2017 as the first calendar year since Bachman started recording and releasing music that he did not issue a single release. While The Morning Star sits as the sum of these parts and represents a transformed Daniel Bachman, that very point should not surprise those who have followed his path so far.
The Morning Star begins with the side-long "Invocation." Its placement here is a statement of intent, a break from the exacting studio sounds of his two most recent albums. "Sycamore City" is replete with the sounds of insects, vehicles, and a summer rain storm. The recording is so effortlessly one with its own particular environment, presenting itself almost as if the listener is walking within their neighborhood and stumbles upon the sounds of a contemplative guitar player coming out of a window on a mid-summer evening. The ghostly and focused "Car" is a new sort of guitar-free work within Bachman's oeuvre. The track opens with – and continues to feature the foundation of – an organ done that leads into a series of manipulated AM radio recordings. "Song for the Setting Sun III" and "Song for the Setting Sun IV" thematically return the album to two of the centerpiece tracks from 2015's River.
"III" starts deliberately and gains steams as it progresses to a Fahey-conversant midpoint before transitioning back to a variation on the song's original structure. The recording is vibrant and full of location-specific details such as a creaking chair and a police siren. Fully lived in and confident, it is a track that demonstrates how far Bachman's compositional skills have progressed from his earliest recordings. "IV" shares that same confidence, punctuating its long run with slides, a deliberate performance, and field recordings of frogs, crickets and other nocturnal fauna. Following on the heels of the buoyantly open "Scrumpy," The Morning Star pulls matters to a close with the epic "New Moon." Underpinned by an organ drone, Bachman slowly unspools a pensive and breathtaking performance of a truly gorgeous and moving composition. Tempos change and the drone eventually fades away, leaving only Bachman's emotive guitar as the track slows to a conclusion.
The Morning Star demonstrates that years have permitted Bachman to grow into a complicated and transfixing performer whose compositions bear a sympathetic ear with few peers. If it sounds like high praise, it should. Daniel Bachman's The Morning Star is the complex, seemingly timeless, and beautiful album that we all need now more than ever.