We're pleased to debut a new song from the Northshore glam rocker before the release of his debut EP, "Queen of the Cliff."
David Bowie circa Ziggy Stardust and T. Rex around Electric Warrior and The Slider were more than just the sum of their heavy rock parts. In addition to dense, distorted Les Pauls, big drums, wells of reverb and sing-along choruses, they sketched our an early ‘70s vision of a rock ’n’ roll future, one where sexuality, style and storytelling leaned toward the poetic. Today, the big guitars and sleek production are almost all that remain of their version of glam rock, and the scandalous way Bowie and Marc Bolan played with the questions of who they were and what they meant is lost to all but those most attached to them. Bowie’s mainstream cred solidified with the release of Let’s Dance, and his career lasted long enough for the dress he wore on the cover of The Man Who Sold the World to be dismissed as another time, another place. T. Rex has been similarly neutered, so much so that “20th Century Boy” can serve as the theme song to Lip Sync Battle, and “The Slider” soundtracked a Coca Cola commercial that used to play in the Superdome during Saints games.
On “Hurt Me Bad” and the new “Nothing to Show,” The Dream Rebel shows that he has songs. The Dream Rebel in a Northshore-based, Tulane-educated singer (born Michael McDaniel) more fixated on glam rock as a subset of classic rock than glam as a cultural proposition. His first release, “Hurt Me Bad,” moves to surging guitars and a Gary Glitter beat (scaled down to one drum kit), while “Nothing to Show” is a poor boy ballad that leans on an upright piano so rich with sustain it sounds like the pedal was held down by a bowling ball. McDaniel sings with convincing, dramatic grace about love on a musician’s wages, and the chorus is made for barroom regulars to beerily yowl along to when it comes on the jukebox. He doesn’t shy away from glam’s British roots—I hear a reference to a quid—but he doesn’t affect a British accent either.
More than anything else, he show on the two songs and the EP Queen of the Cliff—due out September 29—that he understands what made glam rock a chart force if not a cultural force. In that, The Dream Rebel, has more in common with the leather jumpsuited bricklayers in The Sweet and the pop/rock glam rock acts produced by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. For those artists, the signifiers of amorphous sexuality and muscle car futurism were simply the rock ’n’ roll uniform du jour and implied nothing more than a T-shirt and jeans did. In a black T-shirt and black jeans, McDaniel easily fit in at Mojo, the college-friendly coffee shop on Freret, even with a guitar case and a black, wide-brimmed hat that he had the good manners to take off when inside.
McDaniel claims Bowie and T. Rex as influences, along with Queen (no surprise), Electric Light Orchestra, and John Lennon, who tried almost all rock styles available to him over the course of his career. McDaniel connected to them as sounds first but not solely. “I loved everything that goes with it—the crazy stuff, the costumes,” he says. He has tried eye liner, he says, “but I didn’t really like it. And I draw the line at mesh.”
Those weren't choices he faced with his first band, a folk rock band called Jackie Stone that he considers a learning experience. "I used to fingerpick a lot," he says. "For whatever reason, it was easier for me to fingerpick than it was to play guitar riffs." The leap from that act to this one isn't as great as it might seem, though. "The songs I wrote before had a lot of energy. I’ve always loved this type of music."
Today, glam seems at odds with The Dream Rebel’s time and place. Rock bands and electric guitars struggle to find their place in the popular music ecosystem, and a sound paired with a precise, carefully crafted look is unlikely in a sweaty city where people own dress flip-flops. McDaniel knew he had found the music he wanted to make one summer five years ago when he and his cousin drove around listening to Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust constantly. “It would always be the CD that we chose,” he says. “We would drive around with the windows down and jam that everywhere we went.” Goyte had the song of the summer that year with “Somebody That I Used To Know,” and Carly Rae Jepsen took over the top spot that August with “Call Me Maybe,” so McDaniel’s choice makes some sense.
He tries not to worry too much about his context and what is going on musically around him. “I’m more likely to be watching a video from 1966,” he says. It’s not that he’s shutting himself off from the modern world; he sees his songs as contemporary with everything going on around him.
“A good song is a good song,” McDaniel says.