The ambience of the small corner stage last weekend at CD Central was something of a happy accident.
With a modest sound system on the fritz, Daniel Martin Moore and a pair of pals who helped create his new album, In the Cool of the Day, had to play essentially without electricity. Enough amplification was summoned to power up Daniel Joseph Dorff's portable keyboard. Otherwise, there were no microphones to aid the singing, mandolins and guitars.
"You might want to gather in as close as you can," Moore told the in-store crowd. "This is going to be pretty quiet."
For anyone familiar with the music that the Northern Kentucky songsmith has created on a series of albums for the acclaimed Seattle indie rock label Sub Pop, quiet is the norm. Moore's folk songs reflect a contemplative quality, and his hushed singing revels in calm. On his recordings, Moore almost seems to be singing to himself even though the topical scope of his songs has a vitality that demands an audience.
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"I'm glad that comes across," Moore, 28, said a few hours before the CD Central gig. "I try to use and stand by musicians that are pretty quick with the material. But they are also close personal friends of mine, which really helps. When you're working with people you love and trust, everybody wants to make the music something special.
"I think that's the environment I'll always work in. There's something about starting a project that is close to your heart with people who are also close to your heart. If you do it right, all of that love and friendship will become a part of what you're doing."
The occasion for the CD Central appearance and a full concert performance Thursday at Natasha's Bistro & Bar is In the Cool of the Day. It's an album of spirituals. A few of them, such as the welcoming All Ye Tenderhearted and the piano/organ dominated O My Soul, are originals. Others, including a blues-hued Closer Walk With Thee and a New Orleans jazz-saturated In the Garden, are songs Moore grew up with.
Such familiarity with spiritual standards was the impetus for In the Cool of the Day. Moore, who lives in Cold Springs, initially intended to record the songs for his family, most of whom live in and near Elizabethtown. It was essentially an extension of the working philosophy that guides Moore's music. Having favored making music with friends, he was now designing a record for his family.
"These are some of my favorite songs from over the years," Moore said. "They are my mother's favorites and my grandparents' favorites — songs that we have all known for most of our lives. The album was never intended as a proper record, but a fun project I would probably give to my family for Christmas or something. As a proper record, it was kind of an accident.
"But the melodies are so spectacular in some of these songs that it felt OK to kind of push them a little bit and try something different with them. Then I started thinking about making it an album I would release."
That's also when Moore decided to augment the music with a few spiritually themed works of his own. But he is hard-pressed to explain the inspirations behind the latter. Moore seldom analyzes the muse for any of his songs.
"I'm not sure about the genesis of any of them," he said. "I don't ask questions. I just take what I'm given and move on. I'm not really sure how or from where any of these songs come from.
"I know people who write out pages and pages and pages every day they work on songs to get ideas for a lyric. I've just never been able to do that."
One song that didn't come from Moore's muse is In the Cool of the Day's title tune. Written by Kentucky mountain music matriarch Jean Ritchie, it speaks not only from a spiritual perspective but a topical one.
The song speaks of humans' responsibility to be stewards of the Earth. Such sentiment also fuels the 2010 album Dear Companion, which Moore cut with Lexington/Louisville cellist and songwriter Ben Sollee. It addresses and reflects on the environmental concerns raised over mountaintop- removal coal-mining practices.
"There are a lot of things we do that keep MTR happening," Moore said. "One of them is an almost societal disconnect from the true meaning of nature. But that's a personal thing, too. Everybody has to make up their own mind about what's going on in the world. But thinking about MTR in the context of stewardship really weighs heavily on my mind.
"I'm willing to say surface strip-mining was at the forefront of Jean Ritchie's writing of In the Cool of the Day. It's about the world and our place in it. That's a theme that runs through a lot of her music.
"I can only hope that my record will at least encourage some internal dialogue and maybe spark a similar train of thought."