Sean Michael Dargan remains one of Madison’s most endearing artists. He’s among those that are always engaged; not just with their music but by participating in benefits, showing up for causes, frequenting events by their peers and, above all, working really hard to further themselves as career-minded musicians. Like anything else, it seems the squeaky wheel gets the grease and SMD’s fourth album has earned several reviews already. In Dargan’s case, the attention is well-deserved, not just for the afore-mentioned reasons but because he remains a song craftsman of high caliber.
Dargan may seem the eternal optimist in his bright-colored clothes and frequent bow-ties, and, if you know him at all, his good-naturedness and spry sense of humor (He’s still too tall, though!). But Dargan is a pragmatist as well and a keen observer of culture and politics. Several tracks on Snap Your Fingers & Stomp Your Feet, Dargan’s fourth release as a solo artist, display these traits and could have made for an EP of their own, their topical subject matter veering from Dargan’s more familiar pop-song approach to love and life. “Goodbye,” a kiss-off to George Bush and his cronies, kicks things off in strong fashion, with Dargan and his core band (Michael Brenneis on drums, Dan Kennedy and guitar and the Selfish Gene’s Erik Andraska on bass) rocking as hard as they ever have. Dargan’s knack for writing a catchy tune is augmented by his clever turns of lyrical phrase. He can make subject matter as bleak as this tunefully sunny and toe-tappingly addictive. The phrase, “The Mt. Ranier of shame and folly / Following your bald Svengali clown” is one of his best and typifies this ability. The track is also notable for the addition of a horn section made up of some of the members of the Madison Jazz Orchestra. “Ballad of Alberto Gonzales,” sung in the first-person, is molded after the Beach Boys, with a familiar hint of psychedelia (something you’d never associate with Gonzalez) and complete with harmonious “bop-bops” in the coda. “Hey Joe Biden” (a clever title play on the infamous “Hey Joe”) is a rollicking plea for Biden to “take a verbal holiday,” showing that Dargan’s sarcasm lands on both sides of the political fence. Perry Blanchard adds meaty keyboards to this track and others on the album.
Dargan mines old-school rock a la Nick Lowe on a trio of tracks that feature the Kissers’ rhythm section of Joel Bernstein and Ken Fitzsimmons. Of those, “Someday I Might Learn” is most memorable and also features sizzling guitar courtesy of Jay Moran (of O’Bros fame).
Dargan uses motorized vehicles metaphorically on “Little Miss Sunshine” (car as woman), and “Boomerang” (car as relationship) and more directly on “Quarter Turn of the Wrist” (love of motorcycles). Elsewhere, his daughter gets special treatment on “Margaret” (which gets a little cute) and he pokes fun at himself on “I Scare so Easily,” displaying his more whimsical side.
With such a wide breadth of material, style and content, Dargan could easily be seen as being a bit undefined; is he a serious artist or looking for a spot on Prairie Home Companion? But Dargan has the rare trait of infusing the very sight of his name in print with personality, a personality that becomes increasingly more familiar and easily accepted. You might even spot him in full Scottish regalia, serenading the public on his other instrument of choice, the bagpipes. The standout tracks such as “Goodbye,” and the rest of the songs on the album, never fail to deliver a memorable, sugary chorus and it that sense, Snap Your Fingers & Stomp Your Feet is made whole.