Dalton Domino – Songs From The Exile
Since releasing his debut album in 2015, Dalton Domino has championed his own kind of Texas-made country music. It's an honest, heart-baring sound that nods to the Red Dirt roots of his hometown — Lubbock, TX, where mentors like Cody Canada and Wade Bowen once played some of their earliest gigs — while also reaching far beyond the Lone Star State's traditional twang. Raised on punk music, Conor Oberst, and classic country, Domino writes songs that are both fresh and familiar, nodding to the western-shirted troubadours who came before him while still making room for heartland roots-rock, atmospheric Americana, and the autobiographical lyrics of a songwriter who isn't afraid to shine a light upon his own demons.
He chases the muse into his darkest territory yet with his third record, Songs From The Exile. Written during a period of closeted addiction and released during the clear-eyed clarity of Domino's sobriety, Songs From The Exile mixes hope with heartache, melody with melancholy. It's an album about the damage we sometimes inflict upon ourselves, with 13 clutter-free country songs that were recorded during a series of live takes. The lush, layered arrangements that filled Domino's sophomore release, Corners, are gone, replaced by a lyrically-driven sound laced with light touches of guitar, pedal steel, piano, drums, and bass. The result is the most direct album of Domino's career — an album that focuses not upon the presentation, but upon the frank songwriting and compelling singing that's always been at the core of Dalton Domino's music.
Although written at home during a period he describes as "my own personal rock bottom," Songs From The Exile also finds Domino finally conquering the demons that have plagued him throughout a critically-acclaimed career. "I learned that the mistakes and ghosts of the past are okay to befriend," he says of the songwriting process. "They are what make you who you are today. This record is a collection of songs that are about specific moments in my life where I felt wronged — where I did things that were wrong — and I wrote it alone, in exile, during a year I spent learning how to look the things that kept me prisoner in the eye and let them go. I learned gratitude. I learned how to forgive.”
A staple of Texas' music scene for years, Domino headed out of town to record Songs From The Exile, setting up shop at a friend's studio, Dauphin Street Sound, in Mobile, AL. He brought along an all-star studio band, too, including guitarist Doug Pettibone (John Mayer, Lucinda Williams), drummer Brad Rice (Ryan Adams, Jason Boland), and additional musicians who, collectively, had backed Texas luminaries like Pat Green, Aaron Watson, and Wade Bowen. Together, they recorded stripped-down ballads ("Happy Alone"), breakup songs ("The Nerve"), family tributes ("Daddy's Mud"), and shuffling country numbers ("Better Now"). It was a compelling mix, without any unnecessary overdubs diluting the music's emotional punch.
"When we recorded Corners, we had 93 different tracks on the very first song," Domino remembers. "Songs From The Exile was very simple by comparison. No song had more than 12 tracks going at once. It was just five guys sitting in a room, playing their instruments together. This is country music. It's a songwriter record. It talks about what we're all going through."
After finishing the tracking sessions for Songs From The Exile, Domino checked himself into a treatment center and cleaned himself up — for good. Addiction had always run in the Domino family, and years of heavy touring had taken their toll. For Dalton, an album like Songs From The Exile — with its real-life tales of emotional wreckage and family baggage — gave him an opportunity to look his problems directly in the eye. It gave him an opportunity to write about the reasons he began drinking in the first place. By openly discussing the challenges he'd been taught to hide, Domino gave voice not only to his own struggles, but to a common struggle felt by many.
"It's ok not to always be strong," he says. "With Songs From The Exile, I'm not saying, 'Hope is lost.' It's more like, 'Hey, we all go through this.' And since this is country music, we wanted the music to really reflect the words. We did away with the smoke and mirrors and got back to focusing on the songs."