REVIEW: Dawn Landes’ “Meet Me At the River” Spins Off in New Unpredictable Directions

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If you’ve listened to enough country radio, you start to feel like you can predict the next line of a song before the lyric’s been sung. However, listening to Meet Me At The River (Yep Roc), the gorgeous new album from Dawn Landes, will spin you off in new, unpredictable directions on common themes.

The title track looks back on a friendship from youth to death and urges comfort in the eternity of that relationship – “I’ll be the flower blooming there at your feet.” “Traveling” (co-written with Mary Lee Kortes, who also lends her voice) ruminates on the pleasure of a road trip not for the sake of going somewhere or leaving someone, but simply being somewhere new – “I’m not looking for a pot of gold/Not needing a hand to hold/I’m not searching, you know/I’m just traveling.” The songs are short – typically under four minutes – and tight – few wasted words. But they’re full of direction, spirit, and sweet melodies, and the album is an interesting mix and hippie and religion.

That’s not to say that the album lacks a country standard mix of alcohol and heartache – the honky tonk “Why They Name Whiskey After Men” (penned with Jim McCormick)  answers that with: “It comes on strong and keeps you warm before it starts to do you in/And in spite of the pain you go back again.” Perhaps that’s why the “Southern Girl” (co-written with Angel Snow, who also shares vocals with Landes) prefers a man who’s “not too proud to pray,” but keeps falling for the bad boys. And age doesn’t make abiding affection any simpler – “How To Say ‘I Love You’” lists all the reasons to love someone, but expressing that never gets easier, only harder – “It’s been a few years, I wonder who knows/How to say ‘I Love You.’”

All songs on Meet Me are written or co-written by Landes with the exception of two songs borrowed from late folk musician Jimmy Driftwood, which both provide an interesting contrast to Landes’ more traditional country fare. “My Church” celebrates a religious devotion to nature over structure –  “The floor of my church is the face of the earth/And its roof is the sky up above” – and equality over adherence – “The role of my church is all colors and creeds/Religions too broad to confine.” “What Is the Color of the Soul of Man”, with lyrics paired with Landes’ soulful voice and a driving beat, brings to mind Rhiannon Giddens with questions like,

A red man married a snow white maid

And all our kids were a copper shade

It puzzles me both day and night

Will the children’s souls be red or white?

 

The album ends on a light-hearted note in a duet with Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Bare (one can often tell the perceived talent of a newer artist by the caliber of the guests she attracts, and Landes has found some good ones). It’s a sweet back-and-forth between the two regarding an inability to dance (something I feel is surprisingly common amongst Americana fans, this one included). “But the minute they hit the dance floor/I do “The Hustle” out the door” – sound familiar?

Produced by Fred Foster and recorded at Sound Emporium & The Compound in Nashville, TN, Meet Me At The River features an enviable roster of musicians, including Larry Paxton (bass), Eddie Bayers (drums), Steve Gibson (guitars),  Bobby Wood and Steve Nathan (keys), Bobby Terry (mandolin, acoustic guitar), Larry Franklin (violin) Charlie McCoy (harmonica, vibes), Russ Pahl (pedal steel), John Willis (acoustic guitar), Jamie Morrison (percussion), and additional vocals from Wes Hightower, and Kevin Sokolnicki. But it’s Landes’ simple, elegant voice and deceptively complex lyrics that truly make the album stand out.

 

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