"Darius Degher may not be a household name, but that’s not through lack of talent or effort. Indeed, the most cursory glance at his CV indicates a singer-songwriter with Zelig-esque qualities. Over the years, he’s shared stages with REM, Don McLean, Lucinda Williams, Los Lobos, Dr. John, and Guy Clark. In the ‘80s he led Paisley Underground outfit Darius and the Magnets, released an acclaimed solo debut album, “Cardboard Confessional”, and played sitar on Warren Zevon’s "Sentimental Hygiene" record. After relocating to Sweden for a decade or so, and recording an album with his new band Burning Bridges, he made his way back to California, which brings us to his latest recording, and his first album for eight years, “The Coyote Cantos”.
It’s difficult to believe our paths haven’t crossed before, but as the saying goes, better late than never. “The Coyote Cantos” is very much a singer-songwriter album, with Degher’s rootsy voice to the fore. The production is bright and full, and the arrangements supply plenty of hooks. Opening cut “Edge of the Western World” is the perfect start. Guitar and keyboards come together like something from a classic mid/late ‘60s Dylan record, and a killer chorus wedges the song deep in the subconscious. He likes to tell a story, too. “The Ballad of Bob and Oblivion” is a wonderful title with a song to match, and “The Gas Station Lady” is a banjo-propelled tale of alien abduction and some intergalactic probing. If it weren’t for the fact that he’s 30 years into a career, I’m sure there’d be a call to label him the next Bob Dylan, as it’s similarly branded songwriters like John Prine, Steve Forbert and Elliott Murphy that come to mind. That’s good company to keep, and I’m sure fans of the above trio will find much to enjoy in Degher’s brand of literate Americana."
Rob F., Leicester Bangs Blog, UK
LINER NOTES: THE COYOTE CANTOS
I first met Darius on Halloween, 1989. I went to some sort of record company party in an old downtown L.A. hotel. I rounded a corner and walked into a huge, dimly lit room. A lone figure stood on a stage. He was wearing a black cap, playing an acoustic guitar, looking and sounding like a combination Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and John Lennon. The first words I heard him sing were "We talked of Curt Flood being bitter and Doc Ellis' no-hitter," from his song "There is No Cure." That's all it took. I was in. I'm a baseball fan. This guy was talking to me. But not on the baseball alone. There was an underlying sadness and regret in the songs that resonated, too. I could relate. I went up after the set and told him that I played drums and we should play together. Not so fast. He said he had just gotten out of a band and was going solo. I ignored him.
Somehow I managed to worm my way in. Perhaps it was my enthusiasm for what he was doing. I really wanted to be a part of it. I played a little on his next record, Cardboard Confessional, and we ended up hitting the road together. Darius taught me a lot out there. Not the least of which was how a good bottle of whiskey and some Merle Haggard can make a long road trip a little more bearable.
I lived in his extra room for a time in Hollywood and broke the tail pipe off his Volkswagen Beetle when he was out of town. He let me slide. He's a great friend. Kind of like a big brother but without the violence. A few years later, I played on his Garage Sale of the Soul CD. Then he disappeared. Relocated to his wife’s native Sweden to raise their family. I guess I wasn't surprised. He always seemed to have one foot out the door. He ended up staying in Europe for twelve years, teaching at a university and spending more time writing poetry than playing music. Though he did send me a copy of Poor Man’s Vacation, the record he made with his band in Sweden, Burning Bridges.
That he was writing poetry, and that it was getting published in respected journals, made sense to me, although poetry is not really my thing. I prefer him with a guitar, as we have him here on The Coyote Cantos. What strikes me most about this record is how utterly American it is. The landscape, the earnestness of the people, the love they share, the struggle to make things better. It's a vision of how the country should be if it were the America of our dreams. It isn't. Perhaps it never was. But Darius still sees the possibilities. I guess he's an optimist. An American trait if there ever was one. After all, he did come back.
As if to balance out the depth and density of the songs, the guy is damn funny, too. A song about a gas station attendant whose son, it seems, has been abducted in Area 51? Or the outsider, Boring Bob, who redefines and then redeems himself as a Northern California marijuana mogul? Pure Americana again.
As always, here on The Coyote Cantos he delves into the roots of American music. Folk, country, with a little blues and rock thrown in. The guitar playing brings it all together for me. He's a guy who is known so much for his lyrics as a singer-songwriter, but he has a real voice on the electric guitar. Edgy, biting, angular lines that cut to the heart of the matter. So, even if you're not following everything that closely, you still get the point. That's good guitar playing. On acoustic guitar, his rhythm playing has always inspired me. Strident, pocketed patterns that really set the stage for the stories they support. As a drummer, it feels good to play with that.
The first time I heard Darius, twenty-three years ago, I was at a slightly disconnected moment in my life. I was a pseudo-intellectual trying to be a rock star. His music straightened me right out. I bet it will do the same for you.
Phil Leavitt, Los Angeles, May 2012