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DAWN LANDES— Bluebird

by Ryan Snyder

You’re not really making the most of your anti-Valentine’s Day party without a top notch breakup record to spin, and one of the most resonant breakups of the past few years that no one really talked about is finally about to spawn another one. Dawn Landes and Josh Ritter made some beautiful music for the 18 months that they were married — Landes provided terrific harmonies on Ritters’ So Runs the World Away and an ensuing string of live shows — and their breakup sparked a year of soul-search for Ritter after.

His anger and resentment over their divorce never made it onto a record, however. Instead he waited it out and reconciled his feelings. Last year, Beast In its Tracks was resigned and gracious. It was his hope-you’re-doing-okay letter to his ex Landes, who will offer her own absolution with the release of Bluebird on February 18, her first record in four years and a kind of bemused but affirmative transactional analysis of her time betrothed to Ritter and its aftermath. Though the universal symbol of happiness is the album and its title track’s appointed envoy, the implications are that Landes is drawn to its color and song with the understanding it could fly away at any moment.

There’s catharsis in the bed of gentle strings and country blues picking, and in classic Landes fashion, it achieves that through carefully filled-out arrangements and demonstrative but fragile singing. She still poses more questions than she offers answers, like Lucinda Williams’ “Are You All Right?” fleshed out over a full 33-minute record, asking that of herself and its recipient. If Landes’ songwriting is truly the autobiographical kind, you get the sense of what transpired between a line on 2010’s Sweetheart Rodeo — “My baby’s got a wandering eye…” — and Bluebird’s “Trying to Make a Fire Burn Again” when she sings “I don’t lie, I just get by/Not gonna try to understand.” It’s a gentle, engrossing listen, and seemingly not meant to be empathy bait, but out-loud internal deliberation.

The album’s best song, “Heel Toe,” is a bit of a chapter marker — Landes sings about learning the dance all over again, but with an encouraged, if cautious tone against possibly the most leisurely drum beat that’s still danceable. If these are chapters in her life, then the message of independence in “Home” offers a best outcome: “When I’m out on the town, I get what I need/No one waiting around for this tumbleweed.” It affirms that Bluebird is indeed a breakup record, but also the best kind: one that doesn’t linger in heartsickness, but picks up and doesn’t look back.

· 81/100 Dawn Landes will open for the Autumn Defense at the Blind Tiger on Sunday. !

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