Dan Mangan – Oh Fortune

Label Year is a feature in which I purchase all of the releases of a given record label for an entire calendar year and post on each one. I will also look at other significant releases from the label's past. 2011 will be devoted to Arts & Crafts out of Toronto. For more info, check out the introduction.


  • Artist: Dan Mangan
  • Title: Oh Fortune
  • Format: Album
  • Release Date: 09/27/2011
  • Catalog Number: A&C062

About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All by Arts & Crafts

Dan Mangan's Oh Fortune is the first new, conventionally-released album on Arts & Crafts since Timber Timbre's Creep On Creepin' On came out back in April. This record is Dan's second for the label, and from what I have read, it marks him moving his sound from one predominantly comprised of voice and an acoustic guitar to something much more expansive and detailed. While I'm not familiar with his previous work and may not quite appreciate this change (or perhaps revile it) as Dan's longtime fans would, I can say it is an enjoyable and rich world in which to have your ears spend some time. There are the usual suspects like guitars, drums, bass, and keyboards, as well as French horn, trumpet, clarinet, flute, cello, violin, and more.

It all comes together in an organic way that doesn't feel overly busy. One still can discern Dan's roots as a solo singer-songwriter at the core of each song. I believe pushing to try new things and challenge one's self as a creative person is usually a worthwhile endeavor, and absent the ability to compare this to other work, I see no reason to adjust my stance. For example, I like the journey a song like opener "About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All," undertakes. The strings carry the early proceedings before horns become prominent. Dan's distinctive voice – a possible comparison is the lead singer of Mumford & Sons – gets more emotive, before the song ends with just him and the guitar.

Post-War Blues by Arts & Crafts

Lyrically and thematically, Oh Fortune seems to have a heavy mood. In the most literal sense, there is a song called "If I Am Dead," and another called "Regarding Death and Dying." I can't help thinking the on-its-face neutrality of  "There leaves in the trees, there are trees in the forest," conveys a dull pain or enduring sense of defeat when following the line, "I know there is hope but I can't look for it." But it's not all depressing. While "Jeopardy," is filled with questions like "What is this sorrow," or "Is it meaningful to be angry," there is an underlying cleverness, too. First, the title references the fact that literally all of the lyrics are questions, just like the "answers" in the game show of the same name. And I believe the line "Have I always been filled with questions," is a tongue-in-cheek bit of levity. Some of these songs foster a sense of resignation but some have an underlying sense of urgency, like "Rows of Houses," or the charging "Post-War Blues." It feels like throughout the album there's a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of strands in old Dan's head.

Dan Mangan comes across as a very solid writer and performer, one who has made a well-crafted record. The paradox of such an achievement is that sometimes I had trouble focusing and fully immersing myself into his music. I would not say any of the songs are bad or discourage anyone from checking out this album. I believe this record has an audience that will love it and treasure it. However, I would say that personally, Oh Fortune was missing that extra little edge that would ensure this become a favorite. Perhaps it will continue to unfold its secrets. There's nothing wrong with having this be simply a pleasant way to spend 40 minutes, though.

Of all the A&C releases this year, it is my opinion that this record has the coolest packaging / artwork. The colors are a lot of oranges, yellows, and greens, and the imagery is a mixture of old crowd shots, gem stones, and frontier-ish scenery. I don't know exactly what it means or what it might allude to, but think it looks really awesome. It's nice to have a lyric book to read Dan's words, but also enjoyable when it's so interesting aesthetically. Also, thinking about the Arts & Crafts roster, this represents another addition to the stew – the singer-songwriter ingredient. However, I would say this sound fits pretty comfortably next to Memphis, as well as Timber Timbre for the similarly cohesive moods in their respective albums.

You can get this album at GalleryAC or on iTunes. Check out the video for "Rows of Houses," below, as well as information on future and previous installments of Label Year.

Next on Label Year: The album Metals by Feist.

Previously on Label Year: