Dawn Landes: Fireproof

By: Dennis Cook

Sometimes it takes the better part of a year to figure out how good an album is. Such was the case for this writer with Dawn Landes' quietly fabulous Fireproof (Cooking Vinyl), which comes on soft, charming the blood like slow gin. Each track is set with a jeweler's precision, and sometimes it's the simplicity and clarity that captures us as much as any elaborate engineering. But, there's plenty of healthy complications to Fireproof, too, hinting at one of the strongest, most promising voices to hit pop-rock since young Joni Mitchell discovered The Hissing of Summer Lawns over 30 years ago.

Singing with seductive, warbled spark of early Iris DeMent flavored by a jazz singer's inflection, Landes delicately pulls up a few layers of skin to get at the sweet meat below. By turns funereal and playful, Landes' compositions here don't fully expose themselves on first spin. There's an alluring intellectual striptease full of graveyard thoughts, righteous feminism and after hours mischief. While folkies will likely readily take to her, Landes is a far more complicated gal than most of her singer-songwriter peers, making room for gritty sock hop ("Picture Show"), modern death songs ("Dig Me A Hole") and light experimentation ("Toy Piano"). Amongst contemporaries, only England's Thea Gilmore works in the same rock strewn emotional fields, and frankly Landes has the edge with her clever, ear snagging arrangements and knack for gravity producing restraint. Like Elvis Costello (when he's not shining an egocentric spotlight on his brainy wit), Landes relishes complications and subtleties. And let's be honest, she is probably smarter than most children out there, but NY Times crossword puzzle wrestlers need manna, too.

Fireproof is a special album that doesn't go out of its way to point out its specialness. From the skipping, banjo tickled, near hip-hop shuffle of opener "Bodyguard" to the steel string chime of bare heart closer "You Alone" (and the hidden, shiver inducing solo coda of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down"), this song cycle is like peacock plumage spread out in the dark, the moon letting us see hints of color, metallic and pastel flashes in muted light. Sometimes the most poetic things don't wow us out the door, taking time to work their way into us, but once settled in become part of our lives, places we turn to in our introspection and reverie. Fireproof is well worth the simmer and only makes one look anxiously towards each new salvo Landes offers us.

Enjoy the video for "Bodyguard," quite possibly 'filmed' on leftover sets from a notorious A-Ha video...

And a lovely run through "Dig Me A Hole" for you, too.

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[Published on: 11/26/08]

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