Dawn Landes rebounds from theft stronger than ever on her American debut, Fireproof. The Louisville, Kentucky-born singer/songwriter had years of work on her laptop when it was stolen from her Brooklyn apartment. Instead of collapsing or trying to remake what was lost, the anti-folk musician just “started over from scratch”, writing the first song of what was to become Fireproof while she waited for the police to show up. There’s an unmistakable air of sadness throughout the record, but also a vein of defiance.
“Bodyguard”, that piece, leads off Fireproof on a strong note. It’s catchy, in the way Paul Simon’s folk-pop would meet Suzanne Vega’s echoing vocals (Landes previously opened for Vega in Europe). However, it and the country-fun rhythm of the following traditional, “I Don’t Need No Man”, belie the depth that would come to fore in the album. The musician loses some accessibility when she ups the soul and beauty on such pieces as the stripped songbird “Tired Of This Life” and sad melody “Twilight”.
Landes mixes things up in the middle of Fireproof, combining her ‘lone voice in an empty room’ to a more pressing rhythm on the interesting “Private Little Hell”. “Picture Show” is a lo-fi phonograph ditty that neatly breaks into garage-rock electric guitars, midway through. “Kids In a Play” starts as a well-executed small drive, single-worthy in its vocals, but builds while retaining its style, just adding power. “Toy Piano” is exactly that: an instrumental on a toy piano.
After those developed excursions, Fireproof gets a little too simple at its end, with the choral “Dig Me a Hole”, sweet “Goodnight Lover”, and stripped epic, “You Alone”. However, the slower, bolder “I’m In Love With The Night” has real weight in is expanse. And the hidden track, Landes’ cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”, is a unique take, without the Heartbreaker’s famed drawl, as the songstress makes it her own.
Dawn Landes came up in New York’s anti-folk scene, getting work as a studio engineer (and yes, working at a bookstore), before touring Europe with Vega and later HEM (on “glockenspiel/background vocals”). Others might not have been able to handle the turn in fortunes following her robbery – the city can do that to out-of-towners. But Landes persevered, and now she’s as Fireproof as any native.