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  Dawn Landes  
  Cooking Vinyl  
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A few times in the past i have mentioned that the EvilSponge promo process is kind of chaotic. CDs come in, are listened to once, and then filed according to how likely i think i will actually enjoy listening to the CD enough to write a review. Sometimes people send download links -- these mostly disappear in the sheer mass of obscure new wave downloads clogging my hard drive, never to be seen again.

Either way, most promos are listened to once. Sadly, it's a cut throat business -- your CD has to really engage me from the get go, or else i am unlikely to follow up with it. Things that take time to grow on a listener often don't get the chance to do so. Hey, what can i say? When you are a wildly popular internet CD reviewer, everyone is vying for your attention. Or maybe it is just that so many records come out, and so many promo companies, labels, and/or artists are trying to get any recognition for their work, that it is easy for a reviewer to feel overwhelmed.

Now, add to this the fact that i was raised Catholic, so i eventually start to feel guilty that i have not really listened to the CDs on that ever-growing shelf (now shelf and a half -- seriously), and so every once in a while, when i have extra free time to burn (or, more likely, a serious bout of insomnia), i pull some of the promos down and give them another spin. And if a CD impresses me on the second try, when i really am not expecting anything, well, then i tend to pay attention.

Such is the case with Fireproof by Dawn Landes. Dawn is a folk singer, originally from Louisville, but for some reason living in New York. She makes singer-songwriterish pop with the assistance of a few friends, none of whom i have ever heard of before. Fireproof is her debut record, and at first i was bored by the country overtones to a lot of what she is doing. On further listening, she is doing some interesting things, and does have a lovely voice.

The record starts off with a nice rhythm (tapped drums and deep bass) and a light banjo melody. Normally banjo is enough to put me off a record, but the bass here is a light supple thing, and the drum beat is a steady tapping. Shortly, the voice comes in. Ms. Landes' voice is rich, with a hint of echo. Her singing style is expressive, but not overtly so. Her voice really reminds me of someone i liked in the 1980s. Some of Solitude Standing-era Suzanne Vega, and a hint of the subtler moments of Sinead O'Connor. Very nice. Anyway, this lead-off track is a catchy tune. It's called Bodyguard, and is (according to the press sheet) Landes' reaction to having her apartment broken into. Well, she turned a traumatic invasion of her personal space into a fun tune. This was enough to convince me to listen to the rest of the CD.

I almost came to regret that decision. The next track is an old country song (listed as "traditional") called I Don't Need No Man. She sings this well enough, but it tests the limits of how much country i am willing to accept. This is followed by Tired of this Life, which is another country song. Ugh.

The country flavor fades somewhat on the next track, the lovely ballad Twilight. Her voice is achingly beautiful here, as she sings accompanied by light slide guitar and xylophone. This really works, and shows the strength of her voice.

The next three tracks really come across well. First we have the rollicking Private Little Hell, which features her voice layered in as her own backing singer. Then comes Picture Show, in which Landes breaks out of the genre limits of country folk. This features a weird sampled riff, some sparse bluesy guitar, and her singing lightly. When she lets go and has fun like this, it is really engaging. She follows this with my favorite here, the stunning Kids In a Play. This is a slow burner, starting with her singing over a light drum beat and some strummed guitar. It builds and builds, getting very delicate in the middle, then explodes with a nice instrumental breakdown, and shows Landes using the natural textures of her voice to great effect. This is a damned fun song.

There are a few more decent tracks here including I'm In Love With the Night, which is a nice enough folk tune, and Goodnight Lover, where she again layers in some sampled rhythm to nice effect. And there is a hidden track on the album. After the last folk tune fades out, she comes back, just her and the acoustic, singing the old Tom Petty classic I Won't Back Down. Here, it is slow and melancholy, almost resigned, rather than defiant, like he sang it. An interesting interpretation.

Overall , i am glad that i gave Ms. Landes another chance. This is a fun album, and it has moments of real beauty. Ms. Landes seems to have some interesting ideas, especially when she breaks free from the strictures of the country-folk genre. I hope she explores those more in the future. I am very aware that the world does not need another earnest female singer-songwriter. Trust me -- there are CDs by many such artists in the Promo Stack. Landes stands out above the crowd, and i hope that she continues to do so.

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