The Americana couple share a life of music, a new record, a home in Nashville, and a baby daughter.
Press materials recommend the Danberrys if you like Shovels & Rope, Little Big Town, Brandi Carlile, Neko Case, and M. Ward. To give you a better idea, the married duo describe their music as a true blend of many classic American rock, folk, and country sounds. “There’s even some funk, some bluegrass — just a smidge of everything,” says Dorothy Daniel, one half of the singer-songwriter duo with husband Ben DeBerry. “It’s true Americana.”
And award-winning Americana at that.
The East Nashville staples recorded their first EP in 2010 with no real expectations or idea of how the industry worked. The EP landed them a few Independent Music Award nominations, including Best EP, as well as an opening spot for Robert Earl Keen at the Ryman Auditorium via a contest put on by WSM 650. “Both of our subsequent full-length albums also received several nominations, including two nods for Best Americana Album,” Daniel says.
The awards are naturally part of the story, but what really makes the Danberrys distinctive is Daniel’s voice. It’s powerful — soulful and ethereal, like she’s channeling something emanating from both earth and sky for a sound that’s equal parts flesh and spirit. People who sing this authentically have usually been through some serious trials and tribulations.
And she has — though you might not necessarily guess it from the overcoming and triumphant imperative of the title of the Danberrys’ new album, Shine.
The 12-song collection — which has garnered great reviews from American Songwriter and The Boot, among others — reveals the pair balancing hard times and hope with music that puts to use years of artistry in bluegrass, blues, funk, folk, gospel, and pop.
DeBerry’s nuanced and accomplished guitar joins with Daniel’s evocative voice in a marriage of musical talents as complementary as the duo’s real-life pairing.
We talked with Dorothy Daniel about the Danberrys’ new music and the process of getting to Shine.
Cowboys & Indians: Congrats on the new album. How did it come about?
Dorothy Daniel: It all began when we received a message from Brian Brinkerhoff. Someone had mentioned our music to him and he liked what he heard and wanted to help us make a record. Brian challenged us to begin co-writing with the expectation that we would be recording a stripped-down duo-style record. After we finished the songs, it was clear these songs needed a bigger sound to do justice to the material. Brian called Marco Giovino (our all-time favorite drummer) and asked him if he’d be interested in co-producing the record. After Marco came on board, we worked with him to refine the songs, and we selected a perfect handful for this record. Marco put a killer band together, and we traveled to Marco’s studio in Boston to meet all of the guys for the first time and to record these 12 tunes.
C&I: What were the sessions like?
Daniel: Marco has a very organic, old-school approach in the sense that we were all in the same room and we didn’t really rehearse the material. Most of the takes on the record are full-band live performances (including lead vocals) that were captured during the first one or several run-throughs. One interesting and unexpected aspect of the recording process for us was the weather. We recorded this out in the suburbs of Boston in Marco’s home studio in late January. Apparently, everything in Massachusetts is covered in ice and snow during that time of the year. We literally slid into his driveway every morning and then slid down the trail around the back of his house to the studio. For a couple of Tennessee natives, this was no small thing. Ha!
C&I: How about recording — who did you work with?
Daniel: Marco brought in some of his favorite players for this project, and we were totally blown away by all of them. Duke Levine plays guitar and mandolin, Neal Pawley is on guitars and tuba, Marty Ballou is on upright and electric bass, and Tom West played keyboards. Of course, Marco played drums and vibes, and we had some other musicians sprinkle their magic on a few songs as well, namely Darrell Scott on guest vocals for “The Mountain.” We recorded the bulk of the record over three days at Marco’s studio with the band, and then we came back to Nashville and recorded background vocals and just a few overdubs at Doug Lancio’s and Mikie Martel’s studios. Amanda Broadway and Vanessa McGowan sang most of the harmony, along with us.
C&I: What are some of your favorite moments in the music?
Daniel: It’s hard to pick a favorite lyric because they are all so personal and meaningful to us. But we would probably have to say these lines from the title track, “Shine,” sum up our personal daily mantra and our whole reason for making music in the first place: “Sometimes darkness may roam / Shine, shine wherever it goes.” We also both still love and often even tear up when “The River Is Wide” kicks in after the bridge. It was such a palpable, powerful moment in the studio and it captures the spirit of the lyrics perfectly.
C&I: Tell us about the video for “Shine.” What were you trying to convey?
Daniel: The song is about overcoming the devastating effects of childhood sexual abuse. It was a little tricky trying to convey the topic in a palatable way visually. The video producer, Scot Sax, and I came up with the concept of a little girl waking up from a nightmare and realizing she’s free and safe. The video starts off in confined, dark spaces and ends with the drone shot of the wide-open pasture and sunset. The song and video are meant to portray healing and liberation from the trauma that inevitably haunts victims of abuse into adulthood.
C&I: What’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?
Daniel: We’ve been married for almost 14 years and we have a 1-year-old daughter. Also, I am a CPA and Ben is an IT expert — that usually turns heads. And I used to have the worst stage fright. I could always sing, but I had zero confidence as a person in general, so singing in front of groups of people gave me the worst anxiety. The last four years for me have been constant, unrelenting therapy, healing retreats, neurological brain training, meditation, and spiritual journeying dealing with PTSD from the trauma of being raped as a child. I’ve found my strength and my confidence, something I never had before. The new record was written during this time of intense introspection and healing.
C&I: How did you get into music?
Daniel: Both of us were exposed to music through our parents and through the church at a young age. Ben grew up hearing his dad play ragtime piano and listening to ’70s and ’80s music. He started taking guitar lessons when he was 10, and music became an obsession after that. I was always a natural singer; I started writing my own songs shortly after Ben taught me to play guitar in college.
C&I: Where are you from and what did you grow up listening to?
Daniel: I was born in Nashville and grew up about an hour out of the city in Charlotte, Tennessee. Ben was born in Peoria, Illinois, but his family moved to middle Tennessee when he was in the 4th grade. We live together in East Nashville now with our daughter.
Ben grew up listening to ’90s country, Jimi Hendrix, and B.B. King just to name a few. His dad was actually a deejay in college, so he was exposed to a broad spectrum of music as a kid. I lived out in the country, so I grew up listening to the big country-pop stations out of Nashville. There was also a great Motown station out of Nashville at that time. My dad was also instrumental in exposing me to some of the great songwriters like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash at an early age.
C&I: Who are some of your musical influences?
Daniel: Ben’s guitar playing is influenced by John Scofield, Tony Rice, B.B. King, Mark Knopfler, JJ Cale, Leon Russell … just to name a few. I've been greatly influenced by female singer-songwriters like Patty Griffin, Julie Lee, Sarah Siskind, and Julie Miller. New Orleans, funk, and classic rock have been a huge influence on both of us.
C&I: What’s your process like?
Daniel: We don’t have an exact process; it varies greatly from song to song. Our new record, Shine, which came out at the end of July, is the first record where we co-wrote every song together, and this has become our overwhelmingly preferred method. I typically come up with the spark for the song — the melody or chorus — and then Ben helps finish the musical form of the song while I focus on the lyrics. It doesn’t always go down like that, but this seems to be the norm, at least lately.
C&I: What have you been doing during the pandemic?
Daniel: We’ve been very entertained and busy raising our daughter. Not having the usual playdates and outings you typically schedule to keep kids busy has been extremely challenging. We’ve also been focused on our album release, which has thankfully kept us very busy. And we’ve been doing some live-streaming on Facebook and Instagram and joined in some group musical projects with fellow musicians around town. One such project is called Playing It Forward by keyboardist Brother Paul Brown, created to benefit MusiCares.
C&I: When things normalize, what should we do when we’re in your town?
Daniel: Nashville is a great place to visit. If you visit during post-quarantine times, you should check out all of the amazing restaurants and music venues. There are also lots of outdoor attractions within an hour or two from town. Montgomery Bell State Park in our hometown of Dickson is beautiful, and there are tons of canoe-worthy rivers close by.
The Danberrys’ Feel Good Playlist
“Sweet Georgia Brown” — Brother Bones & His Shadows
“Life” — Dr. John
“The Harder They Come” — Jimmy Cliff
“Man Gave Name to All the Animals” — Bob Dylan
“Infinite Sky” — Joe Pisapia
“All Night Long (All Night)” — Lionel Richie
“Lay It Down” — Al Green
“Just Kissed My Baby” — The Meters
“How I Got Over” (Live at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church) — Aretha Franklin
“Yes We Can” — Lee Dorsey
“Joyful Noise” — Leon & Mary Russell