Fireproof
Dawn Landes

Cooking Vinyl Records

Fireproof is an unassuming, sneaky sort of record, performed with such casual, comfortable intimacy that it seems as much like an overheard impromptu house concert as much as a studio recording. And Landes herself is an unassuming, sneaky sort of singer, in the unadorned, plainspoken tradition of Suzanne Vega, but with a subtle quirkiness that brings Jane Siberry, occasionally, to mind. Her music, while not overtly odd in any way, eludes precise description, probably because of the offbeat but uncluttered mix of instruments she’s engaged here, which include a banjo, harmonica, pedal steel, organ, optigan (this being a strange, organ-like instrument made by Mattel in the ’70s), bells, and toy piano.

Most of the songs take a while to sink in, both musically and lyrically. Some saunter by with an Americana-ish, by-the-campfire aura (“Tired of This Life,” “Twilight,” “Dig Me a Hole”), while others exploit Landes’ eccentric musical landscape in divergent ways: the Waits-ian carnivalia of “Picture Show”, the tinkly tranciness of “Goodnight Lover,” the stripped-down urgency of “Private Little Hell,” the languid, semi-surreal banjo-funk (?) of the mysteriously alluring “Bodyguard.” She sings often of dreaming and darkness and nighttime, and her lyrics make discomfiting leaps in both thought and image. Listen to how she uses her quirky chamber group to great effect on her affecting cover of the traditional (and yet, strange) song “I Don’t Need No Man,” with some of the percussion playing, it would seem, across the room, while burbling synth sounds frolic with the fast-strumming hoedown of guitars and mandolin. Another highlight: “I’m in Love With the Night,” all lonesome-prairie torchiness and fugitive heartache.  [buy via the Fingertips Store]

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