In February of last year Dawn Landes released her fourth full-length record, Bluebird. Cited by many observers as the 34 year old singer-songwriter’s “divorce album”, it reflects upon the dénouement of her union with fellow American musician Josh Ritter. It is a sparse, often desolate listen in which Landes exploits the tension that exists between happiness and despair.
Less than a year later she is in York about to set out on a short tour of the UK and Ireland and every indication is that she is now in a much better time and place. A little after nine o’clock she steps out onto the Fibbers’ stage, a woman in black and exuding a quietly understated confidence and charm. She opens her fifteen song set with ‘Money In The Bank’. Taken from her 2009 album Sweet Heart Rodeo – recorded at a time when she and Ritter were still very much together – she sings that “everything’s right” in a bright, beautiful clear voice that conjures up memories of both Judee Sill and Laura Cantrell.
Landes then performs five songs from Bluebird, straight and true, one after the other as if to affirm just how far she has travelled emotionally since first having written them. Here much of their studio sorrow and fragility is replaced by a spirited determination for her to move on. ‘Try To Make A Fire Burn Again’ no longer yearns so deeply and hidden beneath its delicate melody, the album’s title track is now suddenly bold and resolute.
This short tour heralds the release of her new Covers EP and the first song that Dawn Landes performs from it this evening is ‘Moon River’. Singing just behind the beat, Landes captures perfectly all of the delicate charm Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer had invested in the song when they had written it back in 1961 for the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Her later reading of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Atlantic City’ similarly taps into the original’s sense of timelessness and confirms Landes’ innate ability to interpret the songs of others.
Landes’ concludes her set with a double helping from her 2008 album Fireproof; first we get a lovely, sweet version of ‘Twilight’ before she signs off with a muscular blast of ‘Bodyguard’. Pausing only briefly for a couple of on-stage pirouettes (replacing the customary encore routine of going off stage before coming back on again moments later), and clearly emboldened by having been placed 3rd in a Dolly Parton competition last year, she then delivers a remarkably true cover of ‘Longer Than Always’.
There is still time to take a request from a disappointingly small, but most enthusiastic audience. Despite not having practised the song, Landes makes a fearless fist of ‘Drive’ – which had appeared on an earlier EP, Straight Lines – bringing to an end a truly great evening of music and proving not only Dawn Landes supreme talent but also her emotional resilience.
More photos from this show can be found here