How’s this for an endorsement: Legendary guitarist Robben Ford asked to produce Daniel Donato’s new album, A Young Man’s Country.
Daniel Donato calls his sound “cosmic country.” By way of explanation: “It is inspired by jam bands and classic country music that I learned from playing honky-tonks in Nashville for over 500 four-hour-long shows for tips,” Donato says.
He comes from the small town of Spring Hill, Tennessee, about 35 miles south of where he now lives in Music City. Good thing Donato found his love of music early “by being bad at skateboarding, but not so bad at Guitar Hero.” The result of that discovery and all that stage jamming is A Young Man’s Country, his first album, which came out in July.
You’ll no doubt have your own comparisons when you hear this instantly likeable and honest music. For me it was a trip back to halcyon college days in California and the foundations of my abiding love for something you might loosely call country rock. The Grateful Dead, Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Little Feat, Buffalo Springfield, Poco, Pure Prairie League, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils — I can see the album covers and the spinning vinyl, hear the needle touch down on that gorgeous turntable, feel the music and endorphins kick in. This record would have been right at home then and is still a great down-home fit in 2020.
We talked with Donato about his music and the “great honor to be able to get better at being yourself.”
Cowboys & Indians: Tell us about the new music. What inspired A Young Man’s Country?
Daniel Donato: It is my first record. Thousands of hours of stage time inspired it. Life experience, inspiration from my heroes, and the need to communicate! Sturgill Simpson, John Prine, and the Grateful Dead all were big influences on this record. One of my heroes, Robben Ford, produced it. He called me out of the blue one day, having seen a video of “Cosmic Country” on YouTube, asking if I’d be interested in cutting an album with him. We played 100 shows last year — that is what this record is. The live Cosmic Country experience.
C&I: What’s the meaning in it for you, and what do you hope listeners will get from it?
Donato: A Young Man’s Country to me is a love letter to being OK with aging, loving where and who you are, and being ambitious about where you’re going. This record sounds 100 percent like me. It is an ID. I want listeners to be shameless in their individuality, just as much as this album is. On all fronts, you’re an individual. From your communication patterns to your wins and losses to your aesthetic. It is a great honor to be able to get better at being yourself! It takes patience, persistence, and positivity.
C&I: Generally speaking, what inspires you? How do you “refill the well” of creativity?
Donato: Truth inspires me. Truth can be found anywhere if you’re open to it. I love live recordings, exercise, podcasts, westerns, and meditation. That feeling of “meaning,” that dopamine reward, I search for constantly. I am trying to be a student of awareness diligently each day.
C&I: What’s something that people might be surprised to learn about you?
Donato: I’ve preordered the Tesla Cybertruck. To me, that is Cosmic Country in a vehicle. Cosmic Country is a culture — it is music, community, concepts, products, and lifestyle. This vehicle is necessary for me.
C&I: What have you been doing during lockdown?
Donato: I’ve started Cosmic Country Music, my own label and publishing house. I’ve dug more into the Cosmic Country podcast The Lost Highway. I always am learning Grateful Dead music and country tunes to keep the revolving doors of inspiration alive.
I’ve kept up constant communication on a daily basis on all platforms possible: Instagram, YouTube, my podcast, and TikTok. We just taped a live show using the best lighting company Nashville has to offer in order to capture the live Cosmic Country experience.
C&I: What’s next for you?
Donato: We will sell out the Ryman Auditorium. When I think of “next,” that is it.
C&I: Anything else you’d like to get out there to our readers?
Donato: I want them to answer this question: Do I look more like Tom Holland or Sean White?
Photography: Images courtesy All Eyes Media