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The newer tunes share space with songs like "Eldorado Canyon," "I Still Think of You" and "South Carolina," tunes penned in the 1970s and '80s that have finally been realized, with input from acoustic musicians like Ernie Martinez, eTown's Christian Teele, Freddi Gowdy from the Freddi Henchi Band, Hazel Miller, Sam Bush from Bela Fleck's band, and a wide array of other local luminaries. Those contributions came gradually, as Daniels moved on from treatment and returned to Colorado to rebuild a normal routine.
"I appreciate people's bluntness," declares Daniels. "My son said to me after I got out of the hospital, 'Dad, before you croak, I want you to do an acoustic album.' That's how the record started.
"I'd recorded tunes with acoustic guitar and voice, and that was it," Daniels goes on. "The first guy was Ernie Martinez — one of the best bluegrass players I've ever met. He said, 'Chris, how about if I put a mandolin part on it?' Next was Sam Bush. Then I saw Richie Furay at the ceremony for the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, and Richie said, 'I'd love to be on the album.'"
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Artist by artist, collaborator by collaborator, the album grew into a work that was more than the solitary musings of a single songwriter. It grew into a communal patchwork, a piece that drew from a decades-long career full of associations. In addition to the new tunes and the songs recovered from Daniels's past, the release also includes a bonus disc, a collection of vintage performances from old Telluride Bluegrass Festivals and rare B-sides from thirty years.
At its heart, however, Daniels insists, Better Days veers away from overly ambitious statements or orchestration. While he garnered plenty of input from his musical peers, the core of the record remains his own process as a songwriter, a creative endeavor that's stayed constant through European tours, stints as an administrator and teacher, and his battle with illness.
"I would say that this is a songwriter record," he points out. "In the hospital, I listened to a lot of the Americana way of writing and doing records. It's a lot more about performance than polished, perfect parts."
This approach is deeply rooted in the moment, a philosophy that says our better days are immediate, tactile and only a silent prayer away.