Thursday, November 3, 2011
CD Review – DAFNI, “Sweet Time”
Folk-Americana is happily inclusive of an era of dreamy vocals that spanned the gap between what we now call “old time music” and proto / pre-jazz, long before jazz became insufferably pretentious. It's inclusive of the music of the speakeasies and the “cheer-me-up” songs of the Great Depression. Given today's revival of more characteristically cabaret music, there should be an audience hungry for this music, as well – when it's good and when they can find it. We celebrate that this album shines, and hope to inform potential listeners.
Dafni, who performs as a one-name artist, is a talented singer-songwriter who often writes and performs in older styles. She does that with fine musicality and a subtle impishness that was often taken in the 1930s for sultriness. The diminutive artist is certainly attractive, but Dafni brings an inner grace to her music, more quiet than effusive; she's always having fun and has no trouble drawing-in the listener. You hear her sing and you dream of a Big Band backing her. We must add that she also performs beautifully in more contemporary styles – but she is at her best with her signature retro style.
The real-life Dafni Amirsakis lets fans avoid her tongue-twister Greek name, though she dedicates this record to her “beautiful grandmother,” Anthoula Chrissakis Diamanlidou (1922-2009). Dafni is a naturally happy person and a first-rate scientist with a PhD.
Her lack of touring has limited Dafni's previous albums have enjoyed radio airplay. A live recording of her performing on “Tied to the Tracks” earned a “Listener Favorite” frequent-request honor on that show a few years back.
This album has 11 tracks, all Dafni's originals. It was produced by Dan Janisch and recorded by Dennis Moody at his L.A. studio, with assistance from Chuck Wilson. It's the initial release on her Daffer Doodle Music label.
“I love my band!” Dafni will tell you, with little provocation, and the music they make together is as good on the album as it is live. This time out, she gives top billing to Mark San Filippo on drums, followed by Geoff “The Wolfman” Rakness on upright and electric bass. Three guitarists played on different tracks, band member Peter Kavanaugh on four songs, Tony Gilkyson on three, and Dan Janisch on two. Janisch also plays three-string bass (?!), electric guitar and percussion on one more, and contributes backing vocals. Michael Bolger is fine on accordion, piano and trumpet, and recording artist / singer-songwriter Lisa Finnie adds backing vocals. It's a talented ensemble cast that brings Dafni's original songs to life, with principal assistant arrangement credits to Rakness.
Dafni's vocals drive the entire record, and that's just fine. Her voice is wonderful, often dreamy and atmospheric.
Here's a quick song-by-song critique.
Track 1, “Anything at All,” has a very contemporary arrangement, characterized by rhythmic percussion, but tastefully.
Track 2, “Sweet Time,” is the title track, a piano-vocal that feels like you're hearing Peggy Lee in a quiet, smoke-filled nightclub in 1962, except it is, well, sweet and a little jazzy.
Track 3, “Someday,” with its cute dit-dit-doo is gently upbeat.
Track 4, “Floating,” will find broad appeal, even though it lets loose with an electric guitar solo that isn't necessary, but doesn't hurt anything.
Track 5, “Under the Blue Skies,” is instantly appealing from the first few notes, and it's the one you must download and the one to request when you catch her live; you'll learn it so you can sing along (and others will surely be covering this one).
Track 6, “Part of Me,” is the waltz that shuts-up the guy who wants to hear “Melancholy Baby,” and it would work for the last dance at the honky-tonk, if you aren't crying with aw-shucks sentimentality at the bar.
Track 7, “Walking Out the Door,” is the one with a '60s rock-and-roll feel and that makes the slinky go-go dancer shimmy and the surfers stay on the beach.
Track 8, “Save Me,” is one that Janet Klein could include in her '20s proto-jazz repertoire; Dafni's delivery and the wonderfully understated (and uncredited) cupped trumpet, jazzy piano, and backing counterpoint basso vocals keep you smiling all the way.
Track 9, “Oh How I Wish,” has nice bass riffs that inform its bittersweet 1930s-style lamentations.
Track 10, “Run Away,” has a somewhat unusual feel, both instrumentally and in its time signature; it's a departure from the rest of the CD, but it's not jarring, just different.
Track 11, “Fly Away,” is not the old John Denver / Olivia Newton John duet, and it has a feel that could predate that one by decades. This one could have made lovers cuddle at the speakeasy.
“Sweet Time” is a fine album with plenty of internal cohesion and enough variety to warrant a start-to-finish listen every time you put it in the player. If you load music in your smartphone, you'll want to include all 11 tracks.
You can get more info on Dafni's music and live performance schedule, and order the CD at www.dafni.us
This review originally appeared in the November 3, 2011 edition of the Acoustic Americana Music Guide, available in its entirety at