Album Review: Dan Padley — ‘Perfectly Whelmed’

Dan Padley, a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Music, has been a versatile asset to Iowa City’s music scene. From touring with singer/songwriter Elizabeth Moen to performing with his band Laranja, he’s a player’s player, meshing seamlessly with the music at hand. Perfectly Whelmed seems more personal and reflective than his work elsewhere; each song is imbued with his personality, in turns whimsical and moody.

Perfectly Whelmed isn’t exactly jazz, either, though Padley seems comfortable incorporating jazz harmonic progressions into his songs. His guitar sound is warm and gentle, never taking off into wailing high notes or rapid-fire shredding. “Telerubato” is perhaps the most traditionally jazzy track, recalling sophisticated composers like Bill Evans and using a guitar tone like Kenny Burrell at his mellowest. But in between the simple statement of the melody and its reprise at the end there’s a long improvisatory section that abandons regular meter and ebbs and flows with its own logic.

“From Rubble” builds on repeated arpeggiated notes that change harmonic meaning depending on the root note, defined by Blake Shaw’s bass. The chord progression seems to climb perpetually, and the subtle drumming and slowly changing bass are powerfully quiet, rather than restrained. “Bull is Free” finds Padley using guitar effects to make a “backwards” guitar sound subtly swing over a 6/8 beat, sounding at the same time like a human voice and something alien and electronic.

Other songs recall Larry Coryell (“Steep Spiral Staircase”) and even Radiohead (“Suddenly Sunday”), but to the extent that Padley’s work is rooted in jazz, it isn’t constrained by it. Dan Padley takes the lessons of a formal education to heart, but like Huckleberry Finn, he’s not afraid to light out for the territory. Perfectly Whelmed is a warm, inviting exploration of his own personal, inner jazz.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 272.

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