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You only get to visit Boston for the first time once. And the first time British singer/songwriter Dan Croll came to the city for a visit, WERS got to be a part of it. Croll came in with two backup vocalists to record three acoustic tracks off of his debut album Sweet Disarray.
The first song that Croll performed was a cover of South African Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s “Hello My Baby,” one of the group’s first songs in English. As the group of South African singers typically doesn’t use instruments, Croll’s cover is more of a reimagined one that gives the song a sort of 1960s feel.
The best part about the whole thing is that Croll was able to record the track with Ladysmith Black Mambazo themselves, in their hometown of Durban, South Africa. The song, while not on Croll’s album, was part of a limited edition 10” vinyl released on Record Store Day, April 19th. In studio, Croll had two touring backup vocalists provide harmonies, making it sound sweet and new, while also drawing from classic folk. Croll cites musicians such as Brian Wilson, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell for being a huge part of his inspiration both as an artist today and as a child growing up.
Croll has also drawn comparisons to Paul Simon, which he is grateful for, but also recognizes as part of the circle of musical life: “I think people need to come to grips with the fact that nothing is really new anymore,” Croll said. “It’s all about adapting and blending, and that’s what I’ve kind of done.” Paul Simon also famously recorded with Ladysmith Black Mambazo for his 1986 album, Graceland, bringing the group their first round of international attention that would continue for the next 30 years.
“I’ve obviously been massively inspired by Paul Simon’s music, but I suppose I’m using it as a kind of base, and trying to explore around that and bring it all into a kind of melting pot,” explained Croll.
The second song Croll performed was “From Nowhere,” his debut single and a popular track from his first EP of the same name. On the album, “From Nowhere” plays the part of the pop inspired pick-me-up that eases listeners into more heavy songs, but when played acoustically in-studio, the song took on a different feel. Though it doesn’t feel like it when played with a full electric set up, the song relies predominantly on minor chords. Played acoustically, more of the emotional depth shone through these chords. The transparency of feeling was aided once more by harmonies provided by Croll’s back up singers.
During a brief on-air interview, Croll expressed his relief at finally having his album out for everyone to enjoy. “It’s nice to actually get a piece of work the size of an album out there,” Croll said in his light British accent. Croll compared Sweet Disarray to a mixtape: he didn’t set out with one concept in mind, but rather to have a body of work out there. “It’s what I set out to do,” said Croll, “I don’t want to stick to one sound or anything like that. I think I just want to have fun and experiment with different sounds and try and kind of blend them together… sometimes the odd ones compliment each other quite well.”
Rather than trying to make an album, Croll explained his method as just writing constantly for about four years until he had enough tracks to pick and choose selectively to be able to show his journey as an artist in the best way.
After a discussion about Croll’s fan-base and performing live, Croll brought the live session home with his track entitled “Home,” the last song on Sweet Disarray. The oldest song on the record, written about four years ago, “Home” encompasses a feeling of comfort that Croll may not have now while on tour in the U.S. “Makes me glad I’m only a stone’s throw away/Makes me sad that others can’t have it the same way/ Oh, home, home,” Croll sings. Far away from his home of Staffordshire, England, Croll has been and will be on the road for quite some time. But it may be times like this, singing about home, that he actually feels the most comfortable.