[COUNTRY CROONIN’ AND SUCH] With his new release Father’s Day, local songwriter Michael Dean Damron says he was subconsciously trying to make a gospel record. But most gospel albums don’t drop five “goddamns” mere seconds into the opening.
Still, this is a different Damron from the rowdy-as-fuck frontman for defunct Southern rock outfit I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House. Mike D, as friends call him, has since calmed with his band Thee Loyal Bastards. But the thought of a whiskey-drenched wild man donning a singer-songwriter hat seems a little unnatural.
“I always fancied myself a songwriter,” says Damron, swiping his long, stringy hair out of his face with a heavily tatted arm. “Before it was always the big dumb hillbilly-shtick hick bullshit. Once you’re in a shitkicker mold, it’s hard to break free.”
Granola-chomping country Americana this ain’t. Damron would chew up James Taylor and spit out a gnarled John Denver. Still, Father’s Day lets the 45-year-old Portlander address his demons, dragging them through landscapes resembling his Vegas upbringing and travels in Texas, Oklahoma, L.A. and Portland. The disc is a bloodied and dusty tribute to Damron’s own father, a deeply personal album about dads both real and imagined by a man whose alcohol-soaked paternal relationship walked a jagged line.
“I talked to him three days before he died. Pretty much the last thing he said to me was, ‘You know, Michael, you could be a really good country singer,’” Damron says of his dad, a slight twang detectable in his voice as he averts his eyes. “That was heavy. The idea [of his son being a musician] always made him sick.”
The album’s title track is a painfully honest account of his dad’s hard life and lonely death set to the steam-engine throb of Cash country. Damron’s harmonically gritty voice is haunting as it drifts over wailing harmonica and slide guitar. “I’m a Bastard” and “I Hope Your New Boyfriend Gives You AIDS” prove the Sonofabitch is still alive, but a somber maturity prevails on “Angels Fly Up” and a subdued cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Dancing in the Moonlight.”
Father’s Day is a different Mike D. The feral hillbilly is off the booze but still rowdy. He strives to be a lone troubadour atop a stool, and Father’s Day is some therapy for the nihilistic songwriter before he tackles something wholly unfamiliar—an upbeat follow-up.
“I’m trying to heal myself,” Damron—himself the nonbiological father of a 17-year-old girl—says. “I’m trying to find that God peace, but not religiously. I’m trying to find that thing that’s gonna let me leave this world in peace. I don’t want to go out kickin’ and screamin’.”
“[My dad] was the worst of the worst and the best of the best,” he says. “The further away from him I get, I start to see the good becoming more prevalent. Now a brighter light is cast.”
SEE IT: Michael Dean Damron celebrates the release of Father’s Day at Dante’s on Friday, June 19, with Kleveland and Blackout Radio. 9 pm. $7. 21+.