As soon as he was released from the emergency room, Anthony D'Amato sent his manager two texts. The first was a photo of the overturned rental car he'd been driving while on tour opening for Ben Folds. Somehow, he'd managed to walk away from the wreck with nothing worse than minor bruising, but now he was stranded in Lincoln, Nebraska. The second text contained just five words: "Tell Mogis I'll be late."
"When it was time to think about recording the new album, I made a list of producers I thought would be practical, and then I made a separate list of my dream producers," remembers D'Amato. "Mike Mogis was at the top of the dream list, so once I heard that he'd agreed to meet with me when I came through Omaha on tour, I genuinely wasn't going to let anything get in the way. The car was totaled, but I called around until I found an airport shuttle driver willing to take me the rest of the way."
Mogis—famed for shepherding acclaimed albums from Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk, First Aid Kit, and Jenny Lewis among others—proved to be an ideal fit, and by the fall, the two had begun work on D'Amato's new record, 'Cold Snap.' It's hands-down his most ambitious, incisive, and sophisticated collection yet, with a larger-than-life sound propelled by dual drummers, explosive guitars, infectious hooks, and erudite lyrics. Recorded over fourteen days with Mogis at the helm, the album features players from D'Amato's band mixed with a veritable Omaha all-star team of musicians from The Faint, Cursive, and Bright Eyes (including Conor Oberst, who sings on two tracks).
'Cold Snap' follows D'Amato's 2014 New West debut, 'The Shipwreck From The Shore,' which was inspired in part by his time studying with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon. Backed by members of Bon Iver and Megafaun on the album, D'Amato earned raves on both sides of the pond, with NPR lauding that "he writes in the tradition of Bruce Springsteen or Josh Ritter" and Uncut proclaiming that his songwriting "echoes with early Bob Dylan." USA Today wrote that it "strikes every right note," SPIN praised the way he "turns heartbreak into cheery folk," and Entertainment Weekly said the music "calls to mind Simon & Garfunkel's more amped-up moments." Songs from the record collectively cracked more than three million plays on Spotify and turned up on ABC's hit series Nashville, while the album earned additional love everywhere from the New York Times and WSJ to NY Mag and Billboard.
D'Amato hit the road hard for a year straight to promote the album, touring on three continents and sharing bills with Josh Ritter, Rhett Miller, Justin Townes Earle, Bleachers, and more along the way, as well as performing at the Americana Festival in Nashville (where his set was listed among NPR's favorite performances of the year) and Mumford & Sons' Gentleman of the Road Stopover. It was all going according to plan, until a broken finger forced an unexpected hiatus.
"For a guitarist, 'It's broken' are the last two words you ever want to hear about a finger," D'Amato says. "I took a bunch of Advil and played the last two shows we had on the books, and then I forced myself to finally take a little break, which turned out to be a real blessing in disguise."
It was during that down-time at home in NYC that D'Amato began to write the songs for 'Cold Snap.' Invigorated by the road, the new material was far more band-oriented, with a new wide-screen perspective making room for blistering electric guitars, thunderous drums, and sweeping, cinematic arrangements. Where the last album focused on loss and moving on, the songs on 'Cold Snap' explore the schisms between perception and reality, projection and truth, who we are and how we're seen.
"What happens when our vision of ourselves or the projections we make onto others start to crack under the weight of reality?" D'Amato asks. "That's the idea behind the album cover, where you're looking into this mirror, but the image is distorted. The fissures between truth and perception are starting to form, and maybe just for a second, you can glimpse both simultaneously. All of the songs on this album take place in moments of realization like that."
Sometimes that realization comes on an internal level—the progressively ominous images of soaring album opener "Oh My Goodness" hint at the costs of living up to (and falling short of) expectations—but sometimes it's external and political, as on the too-big-to-fail anthem of "Blue Blooded" or the eerie blues of "If You're Gonna Build A Wall," written in the shadow of election season but hinting at everything from Ferguson to Flint. Sometimes it's a troubling realization—like the 12-string rocker "Golden Gloves" or the galloping lead single "Rain On A Strange Roof," which wrestles with the fear of commitment—but elsewhere, it's a liberating notion that comes with a sense of relief. The rollicking "Ballad of the Undecided" gleefully tears through a string of contradictions, and the upbeat "I Don't Know About You"—in which D'Amato hands the vocal reigns over to Conor Oberst on the bridge—revels in the blank-slate possibilities of meeting someone new.
"Conor was incredibly generous and welcoming, and the first night we hung out, it must have been around 4:00am, he handed me this beautiful old acoustic guitar and asked me to play some songs," remembers D'Amato. "It was a surreal moment considering how inspired I've been by all the music he and Mogis have made over the years, but he seemed to dig what the songs had to say and offered to be a part of the album, which was a real honor."
While 'Cold Snap' is certainly D'Amato's biggest, most expansive record yet, that spirit only serves to make its quiet, fingerpicked moments all the more intimate. "A Kick In The Teeth" looks at the consequences of hesitation over an intricately interlocking acoustic guitar and 6-string banjo part, while the hushed nylon of "Once" paints a dream-like series of portraits that drift in and out of focus like the tide.
Ultimately, if there's a lesson to be learned from the record, it's that reflections often reveal no more than we're willing to see. Sometimes, though, for a brief moment—the time it takes for a car to roll or a finger to fracture or a heart to break, for instance—we're granted a glimpse of something deeper, a flash of clarity when the mirror cracks and the truth in all its confusing complexity slips through. We can fight it or ignore it or deny it or rationalize it all we like, but the only peace comes from embracing it (and ourselves) for all the messy, mixed-up contradictions within, all those "multitudes" Walt Whitman so proudly proclaimed to contain. D'Amato gets there by the end, finishing off the album with a wry smile on the stark, acoustic closer, where he concludes quite simply: "If I've got a funny way of showing how I feel it's not my fault / 'Cos I've got love, and honey, that's not all."