Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax

Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Denver songwriter Dan Craig seems not only to understand this maxim, but also be able to employ it. With his 2006 release, Wirebird, Craig proved that breathy vocals can, indeed, deliver a punch. Laced with a vulnerable desperation and redemptive carriage, Craig’s musical production coupled with his ambition, kindness and bravery has won him a spot among Denver’s top songwriters.

Now sitting on a Spring 2008 release, Skin Grows Thin, not only is Craig’s reach into the heavens taller, but his cross has become even heavier with the drive to succeed.

Like all of his lyrics, Dan Craig, an Ivy League graduate, has been forced to make some very real decisions regarding his life’s pursuit. After finishing his undergraduate degree, the songwriter enrolled in medical school. But with the incendiary rise of his other band, Hearts of Palm (fka, Nathan and Stephen), coupled with the recent developments in his own solo work, Craig made the tough and strong decision to abandon medical school in order to pursue music full time.

In this Craig is making it explicit, the notion that if you want to touch the heavens, sometimes you need to build your own ladder out of the sinewy fibers of your heart’s strings and soul’s vessel. Sometimes to grow, you need to loose the safety net of your life and choose the dangerous route – the one where, the further you go, the further you have to fall.

Admittedly, writing and playing music may be what he’s best at. Since Craig picked-up the guitar at age 13 he knew that music would play a dominating role in his life. He just didn’t know how, exactly, music would fit into his life. Then, many years later, after joining Hearts of Palm, Craig began to feel this cause playing-out in the reality of his life. Shortly after joining Hearts, Craig’s album Wirebird was released and soon after the struggle to create a personal foothold really began.

As with any good craftsman, there is always a curve of maturation. With Craig, the journey has been no different – and he stands honestly at the head of this curve now, able to reflect on the path and how it has impacted him as a secular man, a spiritual man and as the songwriter that he has blossomed into. And as with any brave artist, Craig has cultivated the skill sets necessary, to really begin expressing the inexpressible. Always unafraid, his path is beginning to bear its weight in gold; resting on the notion that he is no longer afraid to say what he means. More than that, he can execute what he means.

But don’t get this wrong: Dan Craig isn’t done yet. To the contrary, he’s just beginning.

Where his stories were meaty in the 2006 album Wirebird, Craig has trimmed the excess in Skin Grows Thin – creating a streamlined album that feels more like a earthy storybook than a musical delicacy. And where Wirebird’s arrangements were on the ascent, the accompaniment on the new album is nearly perfect. With more of a collaborative approach for this disk, Craig’s arrangements are smart, spacious and provide his breathy, despairing vocals the air that they so desperately need.

In total, Craig’s songs are stories. They are dense with lived experience. Skin Grows Thin finds its footing on the foundation of love and relationships, and spirituality. And where these themes can be hackneyed – Craig manages to escape. His torture and boundless joy is all apparent in a starkly human mold that he casts into his compositions. These are not the kinds of songs one mocks when jaded by love. Rather these are the songs of very real torment and desperation; a reaching towards that we all know and understand.

With the girl under your arm and Craig’s songs are tough, sometimes dark songs to sing. Without the girl under your arm and it is a Herculean task to even sit with your guitar at all.

This is where Craig’s lyrics and emotion boils-over in his work: at that point of pure ecstasy, big love and complete defeat. If I didn’t know Craig otherwise, I would forever picture him, after listening to this album, standing in front of his red-headed girl asking her to stay; unabashedly asking her to tell him to stay. In these collages of life and love, I picture Dan Craig on a Boston stoop perpetually watching the girl walk away into the Nantucket Red of a love tattered and torn. Then, impossibly, rebuilt somehow…

Since playing in last year’s A Moveable Feast in September, Craig has blossomed even more. In this he has grown into the playing musician that he always envisioned. And respect has followed. With big shows at nearly every venue in town, and some especially magical, collaborative nights at Meadowlark, Dan Craig is stepping-out under the heavens – this time unabashedly and with his heart in plain sight.

For anyone who has had the chance to stand before Craig and his mournful but heartbreakingly joyous guitar the ambition is finding its place. The ambition is well deserved. And clearly, hard fought – all of the qualities that we all seek-out in our heroes.

Stay tuned for the Dan Craig Band’s next moves, here: www.myspace.com/dancraigmusic.