Antler King Records – 2015
14 tracks; 58 minutes
After her Bliss Avenue and Songs From The Road releases on Ruf this CD is a very different affair with Dana’s distinctive voice backed only by acoustic guitar and occasional mandolin, dobro, piano and harp in a very spare setting. As usual,Jon Diamond plays guitar and harp and had a hand in writing many of the songs with Dana; Jon’s brother Pete plays acoustic guitar on the three songs he wrote; Ann Klein adds mandolin and dobro to three tracks and Jon Regen piano to two.
The material includes demos of songs recorded on earlier albums, material demoed for other artists’ consideration and collaborations between Dana and Ricky Ross (Deacon Blue) and Jack O’Hara. There is also a cover of “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City”.
Dana has built a reputation as a dynamic vocalist with a touch of grit in her voice in front of a rocking electric band so it is interesting to hear her with such minimal backing. That does put her voice up front and centre and that will not be to everyone’s tastes though there is no doubting the power in her singing. Sensibly Dana resists the temptation to resort to screaming though a track like “Say So Long” gets close, Dana egged on by Jon’s keening harp work. Two tracks are reprised from Bliss Avenue, “So Hard To Move” and “Baby Loves The Life”: the former is a ‘down’ song played in a gentle style, Dana’s vocals a study in restraint; the latter is more uptempo and Jon’s harp gives the opening a hint of Dylan in his prime before Dana’s engaging vocal. Both tracks show how these songs began before being re-cast for a full band version. “Keepsake” appeared on 2011’s Love To Beg and in this original demo is a wistful song that makes this reviewer wonder how the final version came out. Closing track “Sad Salvation” is one of the best songs here, another world-weary view on love: “She curses life for giving her what it just can’t let her keep. Sometimes love is a sad salvation, you can’t stay warm in its feeble glow.”
The two collaborations with Scotland’s Ricky Ross are both interesting songs. The stately piano on “Wait Up” reminds you of some of Deacon Blue’s hits in the 1980’s and Dana’s vocal is excellent; “Kind Of Love” is similar in style and Dana’s overtly romantic vocal fits the song well. Dana’s collaboration with Jack O’Hara “Almost Home” opens the disc, Dana’s voice ranging from deep tones to almost raucous. The three songs written by Pete Diamond appear in a run of tracks 2-4 and all are attractive tunes, “The Lie” being the pick with nice dobro work, another wistful performance from Dana who has seen through the pretence. As several of the songs here are concerned with loss and were apparently inspired by deaths in the family the choice of Bobby Bland’s old hit as the sole cover seems a little out of kilter.
Whether this release is intended to fill a gap between Ruf albums or to offer fans a different setting for Dana’s voice is difficult to say but her fans will certainly treasure this addition to her catalogue.