Album Reviews

Dawn Landes – Sweet Heart Rodeo

(Cooking Vinyl) UK release date: 7 September 2009

Dawn Landes - Sweet Heart Rodeo Dawn Landes‘ story is admirable, if not slightly hyperbolic. Raised in Missouri but based in New York, the songwriter dropped out of Uni and interned in several studios, supposedly sleeping in them on the floor at times to ensure her dedication.

Through this, she worked with Phillip Glass, Ryan Adams and Tchad Blake, among others, found a band called Hew and toured with them and over the course of a decade. She even released a couple of well-received solo albums.

She also found time to marry Josh Ritter, a terrific American songwriter in his own right. But all these collaborations and meet-ups only tell a small piece of the story. Even if Landes decamped to studios to learn from the greats, she’d only be well received there if she had something to offer of her own, even if it took a while for that to appear under her own weight.

With Sweet Heart Rodeo, her third solo album, it’s here. This is a delightful record, plain and simple. Landes begins with the dusty Americana romp Young Girl, a song that showcases a strong, syrupy vocal range, reaching darker realms of folk-pop akin to Beth Orton or even Cat Power.

But this is just the beginning, and Sweet Heart Rodeo is filled with different reasons to fall in love with Landes. Here, she experiments with everything from brooding, Appalachian ballads to ethereal, almost Kitchen Motors-influenced atmospherics, and the more one listens, the more each adventure is paved with gold.

Money In The Bank is a simple guitar strum, buttressed with simple flugelhorn accompaniment. There is not much to it, but there need not be. Landes’ pipes tell a tale that needs little support. She speaks of not having money and being forced to sleep in the yard, but in doing so she never comes off as downtrodden. Instead her voice manipulates, turning the darkly lit ballad into a lullaby.

Yet next she goes after Scarlett Johannsson and Dave Sitek territory with Love, merging plaintive Calypso beats with a lazy summer’s day in song. It’s starkly different from its predecessor, but equally filling, showcasing a songwriter with range, smarts and guts, all at once.

Wandering Eye is where ethereality steps in, and Landes flirts with elements of Kira Kira, Múm and the aforementioned Kitchen Motors Family. Jabs of piano lilt into circus-themed synthesizers, built atop a framework of lightly dusted harmonica-flecked country. Again it’s gorgeous, contributing to a sum that equals the greatness of its parts, even though the parts are literally all over the place.

But here it doesn’t matter. It all fits. With any justice, Sweet Heart Rodeo will elevate Landes to the mainstream; she doesn’t deserve to sleep on the floor of any studio.

buy Dawn Landes MP3s or CDs
Spotify Dawn Landes on Spotify

More on Dawn Landes
Dawn Landes – Sweet Heart Rodeo
Dawn Landes – Fireproof