Rick Danko, “Driftin’ Away” from Danko / Fjeld / Andersen (1991): Across the Great Divide

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Rick Danko, for all of his easy grins and folky tomfoolery, could dive to the bottom of your heart — could summon a depth of hurt that illustrated his own emotional complexity — and with only a moment’s notice. “Driftin’ Away,” the opening track to 1991’s Danko / Fjeld / Anderson, was like that.

The song begins with the trio (rounded out by Jonas Fjeld and Eric Andersen) establishing the song’s chorus and tone, singing together in a burst of oaken fortitude. It’s nearly a minute before Danko moves forward to occupy the song’s spotlight, singing an ever-darkening lyric he co-wrote with Anderson and his wife Elizabeth Danko. Initially, it’s only for a verse — but just that quickly, a heartbroken Danko gives “Driftin’ Away” its reason for being.

When he returns, just as interestingly, it’s with none of that initial devastating quietude, though. By the track’s three-minute mark, Rick Danko has gathered himself toward a hardening stoicism. He wills the lyric forward toward its inevitable rebuke, summoning every part of his craft in a fashion that was as complete as it was surprising.

After all, his solo recording career had lain largely dormant since a promising late-1970s debut. But Danko/Fjeld/Andersen was part of a striking resurgence for Danko.

That began with a string of signature concert appearances, with Ringo Starr’s first All-Starr Band, at Roger Waters’ Berlin Wall concert, at Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Celebration, at Woodstock. Just weeks after this trio album’s belated 1993 U.S. release, Danko’s long-hoped-for studio effort with the Band — now centered on a core trio featuring Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson — arrived in the form of the well-received Jericho.

“Driftin’ Away” didn’t herald that comeback so much as solidify things. This is Rick Danko, even appearing once again in a group setting, at the absolute top of his game.

Across the Great Divide is a weekly, song-by-song examination from Something Else! on the legacy of the Band, both together and as solo artists. The series runs on Thursdays.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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