Dayna Kurtz ist eine amerikanische Songwriterin, die in ihren Liedern Einflüsse aus Americana, Jazz und Folk verarbeitet. Jahrelang tingelte sie durch die USA, bis sie eines Tages auf die Woodstock-Legende Richie Havens traf, der von ihren Songs begeistert war und als Gastsänger auf ihrem 2002er Debütalbum zu hören ist. In New York spielte sie bereits vor Rufus Wainwright und Antony & The Johnsons, mit Richard Thompson tourte sie einmal quer durch die USA. "American Standard" ist Dayna Kurtz’ bereits fünftes Album. Es entstand teilweise in Memphis zusammen mit dem Sun-Records-Veteranen Sonny Burgess und seiner Band, den Legendary Pacers, sowie in New Orleans mit der Brass-Band The Nightcrawlers. "American Standard" ist bis dato Daynas direkteste und intensivste Platte. Das zeigt sich auch bei den Coverversionen: Aus Elliott Smiths "Don’t Go Down" wird ein verzweifelter Blues, und mit einem Zigarettenhauch belebt sie eine alte Rockabilly-Nummer wie "Lou Lou Knows" zu neuem Leben.
Would you even know me since I’ve been away? Dayna Kurtz begins, in the plaintive tune “Invocation” that opens her new record, American Standard. The tune’s refrain is a plea – Mama, let me come home. Dayna explains: “I was asking for help from the gods at the start of a marathon writing session that birthed half this record, and most of the next record’s worth of originals. I may be an atheist, but I’m a writer first, and we’re a superstitious lot. I think the writing gods and goddesses are a lot sexier than your run-of-the-mill deities, though. And a lot more frightening.”
American Standard may open with a nervous prayer, but then it comes out swinging hard with a rockabilly homage to an unnamed aging legend of the genre, “Good in ’62.” followed by a deep Mississippi grind called “Billboards for Jesus.” Co-produced with longtime drummer Randy Crafton, he and Kurtz recorded half the disc in his award winning analog studio “Kaleidoscope Sound” in New Jersey, then hit the road to lay down the rest: first to Ardent Studios in Memphis to record with Sun Records legend Sonny Burgess and his band, the Legendary Pacers. Dayna laughs out loud at the memory: “That was a hoot! The last time that band had a personnel change was in 1961 – all 5 of them, in their late 70’s and 80’s, playing together and just kicking ass for that long. It was a gas!” And from there to New Orleans to record “Election Day” with the brass band the Nightcrawlers. (with help from pianist John Gros and guitarist Paul Cebar) “I really wanted to capture the relief and joy we all were feeling on the streets on election day. And a brass band is an instant street party. It’s hard NOT to dance when a great brass band is playing.”
It has been more than 3 years since her last full length recording, (Another Black Feather) was released, and she’d taken more than a year off heavy touring. Why so much time? Dayna explains: “I don’t think I’d ever had more than a month off without having to pack up or lock myself in a studio in more than a decade. I bought a log cabin in the mountains and some recording equipment that I didn’t take out of the box for the first 6 months I applied and was accepted into some Masters level classes in poetry writing at the New School in New York, something I’d always wanted to do. I also took a few guitar lessons – my first ever - because I’d fallen in love with early rock and roll and rockabilly and wanted to learn to play like my new heroes. I got to know the great guy I married a little better. I cooked, I gardened. It was pretty dreamy.”
It wasn’t all play, though – Ms. Kurtz kept busy producing records for other artists as well. She and long time collaborator Randy Crafton produced a top 5 record for Dutch Universal Recording artists Room Eleven called “Mmm…Gumbo,” named for the traditional Louisiana stew Dayna makes to kick off all her recording sessions. (She says: “I’m a big believer that excellent food helps make excellent records. Especially first day in.”) She recorded (and produced) a 10 inch vinyl tribute to Hazel Dickens with fellow Brooklynite, Mamie Minch, as well as a couple of upcoming 7 inch vinyl singles with other pals Keren Ann and My Brightest Diamond. Dayna is excited about all of it: “It was a pretty brilliant time. I feel rather lucky I have that kind of freedom, that I could afford to drop out of old patterns, learn how to do some new things, have some fun and recharge.”
Recharge, indeed. American Standard showcases Dayna’s most direct, most muscular writing to date. And, oddly, the word that best describes her often startling covers is original. She turns an obscure later Elliot Smith song, “Don’t Go Down,” into the howling desperate blues song it seems suddenly meant to be. On the Replacements’ ode to the drunk and lonely, “Here Comes a Regular,” the industrial clank of Crafton’s drums in the background underscores the drowsy warmth of Dayna’s vocals and lap steel (and some particularly spooky ‘human hammond’ backing vocals by Dayna and the French/Israeli chanteuse, Keren Ann). And Dayna breaths some fresh cigarette smoke into a dusty old rockabilly nugget, “Lou Lou Knows, ” turning a little tune written for a man to sing about a girl into a woman’s playfully snarled and cocky boast: “Lou Lou won’t be second choice/Lou Lou’s this town’s biggest noise/Lou Lou’s takin’ this town!” - You can practically see her strut across the stage with a switchblade tucked in her boot. Dayna will be taking your town shortly. Best not to miss her, lest she decide to take some more time off to learn a few more tricks.