Dawn Landes has released a half-dozen albums and EPs but this is her finest. It’s also her most personal – the album a direct result, a reflection on her divorce from fellow musician Josh Ritter. Well, he’s already had his turn at documenting the disintegration of their union, so now it’s hers – but this is less about being bitter, more about head held high stoicism (Cry No More) and attempts, however cautious, to move on (Try To Make A Fire Burn Again).
The opening, title tune has a brittle fingerpicked guitar line as Landes pushes into place the theme for the album, her voice recalling some of the gorgeousness of Laura Cantrell’s recent return to recording. Though there’s an extra grit here, so other touchstones include the recent albums from Aoife O’Donovan and also Caitlin Rose; being helped out too by occasional harmonies from Norah Jones is a masterstroke, their voices create a perfect blend.
On Bloodhound, as the galloping guitar rides off ahead of the song Landes’ voice gives chase and imagines how Cantrell and Feist might sound in collaboration.
Heel Toe is the classic tears-in-beers tone, weepy Cat Power croon, a bit of 2am last-call Lucinda Williams to the guitar motif – and as such one of the finest songs Landes has created.
The band throughout provides sublime accompaniment, Tony Scherr and Catherine Popper alternate on bass, Rob Moose provides the guitars and other strings and it has a campfire warmth to it, old-timey strums and close-mic harmony singing.
The sound of someone else’s sadness – and the suggestion that redemption is there on the next chord – has never sounded so lovely, so utterly sincere.
By the time of the piano-led closer, Home, you hear lines like “I’m down on my knees/And I feel alone” as spiritually uplifting long before she announces that her “soul will rise”. This is the sound of a singer pouring her heart out on the line. And it’s about as close to perfect as you could get. She calls for someone to take her home, a need, a longing to go home. You could cry to this, imagining the perfect sadness, imagining too that you’d never write a line so strong, so true.
A really special album, its fragility, its aching beauty is its strength. The vulnerability here is what makes this seem so strong, so sure. The playing and singing divine.