The first time I heard Dawn Kenney sing, at an IBMA song circle two years ago, I so desperately wished I wasn’t next to perform. I don’t remember what I played or sang that night, but I guarantee I didn’t come anywhere close to singing with her blend of power and grace.
When I heard her at a showcase last year at IBMA, I was glad I didn’t have to follow her and her all-star band, featuring powerful harmonies from Louisa Branscomb and Jeanette Williams.
Now, on Dawn’s distinctive EP, Sing Me Home, everybody can hear Dawn, Louisa and Jeanette sing, with additional harmonies from Jennifer Strickland and Troy Engle. They can take a measure of Dawn’s stout songwriting chops, too; she wrote or co-wrote five of the six songs. The lone exception, Broken Dreams Sell Cheap, was penned by Louisa (who produced the CD) and Tony Rackley.
The most powerful song here is the title cut, which Dawn wrote after a relative passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. As normal communication was cut off, Dawn and others realized they could still reach their loved one through music. Many of us have been down this path. Few have memorialized it in such a touching way, while at the same time steering clear of overwrought sentimentality.
Broken Dreams Sell Cheap is another winner. This one is, as they say on television, ripped from headlines—in this case the home foreclosure epidemic that accompanied the recent deep recession. This is a real heartbreaker of a song that became reality for far too many Americans.
All of the songs have a strong sense of story, and those stories are told in a straight-ahead, just the facts style that I like so much more than abstract lyrics that leave you to guess what the writer is trying to say. That last approach is, to my ear and mind, nonsense.
There’s no nonsense here, just powerful writing and singing that comes from the heart, backed by clean picking from Troy (who played bass, guitar and mandolin and engineered the project), Richard Cifersky on banjo and imaginative, emotional fiddling from Brandon Godman.
Godman is at his best on Unexpected, Ordinary, Unimagined Life. That’s also the song with the strongest harmonies (from Jeanette and Troy) on a project filled with them.
I do have one complaint, though. Six songs is not enough. I can’t wait to hear more from this New England songbird. I just hope I don’t have to follow her to the microphone when Dawn is ready to deliver.