In the darkest times, music lulls us, transporting us above our despair and anxiety, the ragged and worn edges of our souls. Like a soothing balm, the spiraling rhythms and hypnotic beats spread like a warm salve over our wounds. There are certain albums that flow over us with healing water; the guitars, pianos, violins, and vocals weave under and around one another, ebbing and flowing to evoke anguish, hopelessness or hope, and joy and optimism.
Daniel Rodriguez’s debut solo album Sojourn of a Burning Sun is one of those albums, and it couldn’t be more aptly titled. Rodriguez, co-founder and guitarist of Elephant Revival, invites us on his journey through loss and love, as well as his following down life’s curves and his resolute drives down the straight and narrow. Rodriguez’s friend and bandmate Darren Garvey joins him on the album, as do special guests Andrew Marlin of Mandolin Orange and Paul Hoffman of Greensky Bluegrass.
The album opens with a twenty-one second splash of radio static—“Static Splash”—which establishes a tone for the album. The static mimics the confusion and chaos of our lives; we can’t hear one clear voice over the cacophony of voices around us every day, especially over the deafening roar of the voices that would tell us what’s best for us. Those twenty-one seconds can either give way to more cacophonous moments where we feel lost and groping for direction, or they can give way—as they do on the album—to melodious moments that offer direction and hope for moving beyond the static.
The jaunty opening song, “As I Am,” rides along a Paul Simon “Graceland” vibe with Aaron Youngberg’s pedal steel shimmering beneath Rodriguez’s brisk, circling guitar strums. The refrain scats breezily, skipping over wistfulness and embracing the present: “All the should’ves could’ves, what can we do now/Just take me as I am/All the should’ves could’ves, what can we do now/Just take me as I am.” The title track gleams in its sparse sonic structure with Rodriguez’s and Garvey’s vocals wrapping around echoing acoustic guitars, piano, and melodica. The spaciousness of the song compares the arc of love, which has the potential to move across our lives, burning everything with its pure flame, to the journey of the sun: “On the altar of your heart/Every fire that has every blazed/Must have started from a spark/In the shadows of the night/The bottom of the rung/The friction of the atmosphere/Oh, the sojourn of a burning sun/Oh, the sojourn of a burning sun.”
The New Orleans second line strut “This is Life” joyously affirms living in the present moment: “Time is fleeting/Life can have meaning/You’re a thing of beauty, and we’re all rooting for you not to fold/This is life, this is life, this is life.” Animated and robust, the Simon-esque “Brother John” rides along an early ‘70s pop groove, even as the lead guitar lines in the bridge mimic The Grateful Dead. The song is a celebration and an anthem to the power of music: “Oh brother John he’s got a hard shell/But that music moves him so/…I’ve seen as those tears fall/When that music is sweet and low.” The album closes on a somber, spare note in “The Unknown,” a chamber folk piece that spins its hypnotic spell with quiet vocals that sometimes soar as the music climbs higher and higher, carrying the singer into “the unknown” where all he’s certain about is that “love is all we are, that will never change/But who we choose to love, that remains.”
Sojourn of a Burning Sun carries us on a journey into and out of ourselves, with Rodriguez as our guide. On his debut solo album, Rodriguez illustrates his artful ability to plumb the depths of our hearts and souls and to offer us a healing balm for whatever ails us.
Sojourn of a Burning Sun is available for pre-order HERE.