In reality, there’s nothing wrong with her, she does things a little differently. She drinks Guinness for a start; which isn’t that strange I suppose but is maybe a little odd for a woman who was born and raised by a loving mother and Preacher father in the US state of Pennsylvania; a long way away from The Emerald Isle. “I’m an old fat man, stuck in a girl’s body”. However, Dawn and the silky black beverage do share an intrinsic quality; an impenetrable dark cloudy exterior that holds a mystery within. Those familiar with her 2008 album ‘The Courtesy Fall’ will already know her smoky, raspy voice which encapsulates sadness and songs which explore themes such as solitude and lost love through insightful tales full of witty lyrics and black humour. Despite her chosen topics, she’s not the melancholic, manic depressive mess you might imagine, well not in person anyway “I love being around people and having fun.
It’s when I’m alone that the noose comes out”. So with so many songs that appear on the surface as laments over failed relationships or letters to past lovers, who was the person who sent her down the rabbit hole of introspection? “Actually, I’ve never been in love”, this where her enigmatic persona kicks in, there’s just no telling when she’s being straight up. Like her songs, she may say one thing but means something completely different. “I’m guilty of everything but love” goes a line in her new song ‘Death Is A Shark’.
So if the songs aren’t about love, what are they about? “They’re all about death” she says with a sly grin. “I do believe love exists, just not here. I would say it’s more of an album about conspiracy theories” One of the things that sets Dawn apart from many other singer songwriters is her ability to transcend the regular structure of a song when it comes to penning the lyrics and take up the role of a storyteller. Like a female Tom Waits or Bob Dylan, she constructs intriguing tales that would have you believe she has lead one hell of a life but that’s only if you take her word for it.
“My songs are all true stories, except for the ones that aren’t”. Huh? “Well they’re all things I’ve experienced. Just some of them I might have been asleep. But to me they’re just as real as when I’m awake.
Or maybe they’re more real”. Similarly to David Lynch (a director she is a big fan of) there’s little disambiguation between the waking hours and those of the dream world. Dawn’s new album ‘Wrong Side of the Dream’ may have taken its name from just that school of thought. But does that mean being awake is the wrong side of the dream? “Well it’s hard to say which the present is”. Her songs may then be a cathartic way for her to explore her own existential crisis rather than just straight forward ditties but they don’t drag us down into a pit of despair with her.
They fill our hearts with hope as she grapples with the ‘bigger picture’ in order to paint her own for us to enjoy. Just a couple of short years ago, Dawn released her debut album. Brimming over with brains, beauty and most importantly, amazing melodies. ‘The Courtesy Fall’ found Dawn drawing comparisons to the likes of Martha Wainwright and Cerys Matthews and finding critical acclaim at every turn.
With her latest offering, we find her exploring similar themes as before but resiliently standing up against her demons rather than giving into their persistence. Most of the album was penned last year on her return to the States as she found herself on the open road, travelling the country with her dog Scarlett and her goldfish. In that six months and after many adventures the songs for the new album were written. Dawn and Scarlett even spent the night in jail (Scarlett’s fault apparently) which lead to the new track ‘Jail Last Night’.
It may sound odd but it’s just another strange episode in the life of a girl without a map but more endearingly, without a care. Another interesting story that found its way onto ‘Wrong Side Of The Dream’ is the time she swam out into the Irish Sea one morning as far as she could go before turning back. “It was so cold; it felt like I was dying”. The resulting line “One day I shivered all day till the sun went away” found its way into the sultry duet with Ron Sexmith ‘The Silence Is Not What It Seems’. And following on her self-confessed Elvis obsession comes the heart stopping cover of ‘Indescribably Blue’ which puts a typically Dawn slant on the King’s classic account of sorrow and heart ache.
From the winsome wails of ‘Favourite Ghost’ to the jazzy brass flourishes of ‘Your Father Couldn’t Break It To You’, she has managed to serve up another outstanding collection of songs that will have you struggling to put her inimitable style in a box. The new album is a sublime and thoroughly enchanting collection of songs that float between delirium and melancholy across a sea of heartache. So how does her seductive noir personality transpose to her live set? It would be no surprise that for a character as intense as Dawn, she has no trouble in keeping an audience transfixed. Her dazzling smoke and honey voice backed by her innate ability with an acoustic guitar see her able to hold a crowds gaze when alone or when backed by her equally talented band who with which she laid down her new album in just two weeks. Unbelievably even more impressive live as on record, her seductive gravelly croon is clearly the only instrument she needs to impress as she lays herself bare to those on hand.
“What a relief to hear a soul singer who actually sounds like she’s lived a little and seeks something beyond success” (Time Out). As mentioned earlier, she likes to “keep the dark stuff” to the privacy of her own home which leaves us with just her stunning smile and razor sharp wit between songs. Her live show is utterly compelling, encapsulating a host of intelligent and thoroughly captivating songs interspersed by playful banter, an irresistible combination. To date, she’s won over critics, wooed TV audiences (be sure to check out her appearance on BBC’s Jools Holland), supported the likes of Patti Smith and Jason Mraz. She’s found stars like Ed Harcourt and Ron Sexsmith knocking on her door to appear on her album.
But that’s only the beginning of the story. 2010 sees Dawn Kinnard return with an album that will surely see her name established at the top of the list of the most intriguing and irresistible (if not a little strange) artists on the planet, or even in the universe. “I don’t believe I’m part of this universe”. Maybe she’s right.
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