Dawn Landes

Fireproof

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Dawn Landes' second album shows that while she's been characterized as a folk artist, it might be more appropriate to say she has her own quietly varied spin on a number of styles, using her talents as a studio engineer to create something that has a tense, moody feeling that wouldn't surprise listeners of performers ranging from Suzanne Vega to Alison Krauss (or, for that matter, producers like Jon Brion and T Bone Burnett). Backed by a variety of able performers, most notably Ray Rizzo on "drums, vocals, chaos," Landes plays everything from guitars to Optigans to bells as well as sings, but what's interesting is how relatively uncluttered Fireproof sounds -- there's always a sense of space that the music fills but doesn't dominate, matched by the gentle swath of echo she adds to her voice. Sometimes the production touches are absolutely perfect in their spot-on precision -- consider how the cymbal splashes and brisk guitar feed off each other on the reinterpretation of the standard "I Don't Need No Man," or how the combination of overdubbed backing vocals and thumb piano on "Private Little Hell" creates an atmosphere at once pretty and strangely queasy. For all the air of hyperactivity in some of the arrangements, Landes can just as easily aim for the relatively straightforward -- there's the harmonica-tinged high and lonesome lope of "I'm in Love with the Night," as beautiful a piece of smooth '70s country-rock as Mojave 3 were never quite able to capture after their first album, as well as the lovely "Twilight," which rivals Beth Orton for its Dusty Springfield-derived country beauty. But if Orton has recorded anything as jaw-droppingly twisted as the jaunty organ then suddenly slashing guitar-backed "Picture Show"'s portrait of fame and beauty images as corrosion, it's yet to surface. (Tip of the hat as well to the unlisted cover of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" at the end of the disc, featuring just Landes and acoustic guitar. It's a lovely reinterpretation that sounds even better in her hands.)

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