After an on again, off again, presence in the music scene spaning more than 17 years, Jon Dahlander has returned with is stunningly beautiful solo piano album, Songs for Smiler McGee written and composed as a tribute to the son he and his wife a loved and lost.
In the 14 years of Jared’s fragile life, he earned the nickname of Smiler McGee amongst several, and in this delicate collection of songs without words, his father pays tribute to a life that bought joy, love, pain and happiness. Each of the pieces is uncomplicated but intricate, cathartic in a reflective style and appealing in their pure nature.
Characteristic of the years of caring for a medically delicate child, where the days are filled with challenges, the album is reflective; not in a sad way, but in one of acceptance and joy.
Titles to the tracks give an indication of the gentle nature of the works, with pieces such as Angel Daydream which has a nice little up-tempo aspect and Origami’s Dream, reflective of creating a thing of beauty from a something as simple piece of paper or fabric. Odd Jobincreases the tempo to a sense of refreshing busyness, such as is found when in hurry to complete that ‘odd job’., right now.
Be Thou My Vision, is a traditional Irish Hymn thought to have been created in the sixth century by Irish Christian poet Saint Dallan, eventually being set to the folk tune commonly referred to as Slane, a piece in which Dahlander has managed to introduce the very essence of the Irish people and countryside.
With a medically fragile child there is far too much time for tears but in between there is joy, laughter, happiness and peace which has been capture in the exquisite piece Time Between Tears.
Beyond the Moon segues delightfully into the final piece Until Then, which while measured and thoughtful, holds a gracious sense of release and acceptance, an understanding that life gives and takes and yet continues to flow ever onward.
The music of Jon Dahlander has changed over the many years since, as a youngster playing trombone, would practice the piano in the solitude of the music room after band practice. He would create songs without words, never giving consideration to the aspect of one day becoming a musician of note for his solo piano works.
Inside the album cover is a joyful picture of a little boy with his father. Overlaid are the words which are at the very heart of delicately created album
‘Every day is another gift from God
Love those around you unconditionally
Smile as much as you can
Keep all things in perspective
I never heard of Jon Dahlander until this year. I read his email, more of a letter then a note really, and with each passing word, I knew I had to hear his music. As you read this I want you to know that this review is about music that celebrates a life. Not a passing of one, although that’s in here too. Dahlander, a man with a great deal of talent not only as a pianist but also as a parent, wrote the collection, Songs for Smiler McGee for his son, Jared. The miracle boy passed at the age of thirteen, but the short stint of years allowed his parents to love him enough for a lifetime.
Jon Dahlander had very little time to play in those ensuing years, but now he composes everything in retrospect to the little boy with the grin that inspired Songs for Smiler McGee. Jon’s album is fourteen tracks of solo piano, some sad, some happy, but every track overflowing with emotion. Jon’s music is thoughtful in every sense of the word.
The first track, Light of Day, has an old-timey feel to it as if bittersweet days were the norm. Jon’s composition is a study in black & white rather than in color. There is a simplicity to the theme as if we are witness to an old-time movie. Things tend to fade, but then they come back into focus once again.
Father’s Day is a musical memory of many Father’s Days. It is a primal narrative on how a father shoulders the burdens of his life and how that weight can sometimes crush the spirit. Dahlander must have broad shoulders. His melody draws from the heart the strength that is needed to carry pain beyond imagining. Yeah, it’s right there in the music.
Integrating the elements of what was once called a scherzo, Jon offers the ditty, Odd Job. It is a rhythmic minute and a quarter of optimism. Far Beyond Words is another sad refrain full of meditative moments. Sometimes confusion and pain go above the range of human understanding and it is all one can do to understand and pose the questions. Why does this happen? What is the purpose? Sometimes we never get the answers we are seeking. Jon’s gentle tune is a bit of balm on the pain.
Faith & Grace is Jon’s song about Jared’s two sisters, Ava Faith and Chloe Grace. The melody is sweet, tuneful, and probably the most lighthearted tune on the record. It is a song of not only deep love but also a song of perpetual balance. Along with the memory of Jared, it is an unbroken circle.
A parent’s love knows no boundaries. Beyond the Moon is a love song, plain and simple. It is a “hold them until they stop crying kind of song”. Or a “check to see if they’re breathing” kind of song. As a parent, I’ve experienced the same things. The tune is a happy one, but with pensive bumps along the way. The tune captures the same feel as the opening tune.
The final tune is called Until Then. It is a melodic farewell with a built-in promise. Gone are the hectic memories of rushing to the hospital or putting up with balky machinery, sleepless nights and worrisome days. Until Then is the acknowledgment of a long-awaited peace. It is a beautifully sad piece.
Jon Dahlander lives with his wife Heidi and two daughters in Dallas, Texas. Prior to his seventeen-year absence from the piano, he had released a number of albums back in the late 90’s. I haven’t heard his earlier works, but I can tell you that he has nothing to worry about. His music is sensitive, skillful, passionate and contemporary. Songs for Smiler McGee was a work crafted over a long period of time and Jon’s long hours of practicing in the dark have paid off. He reminds us that – every smile is a gift.