Dawn Landes’ Meet Me at the River is a present record. On her fifth studio album, Landes is shaped by her past and is curious about the future, but does not dwell on either. Instead she looks around and says what she likes and what she doesn’t and really doesn’t care about other opinions on the matter. As she sings on “Wind and Rain,” “you can make a lot of noise / you can’t drown out my voice.”
Landes is at the center of her record and delivers each song levelheadedly. Her lightly twanged vocals affably convey her emotions and it quickly becomes apparent that she is a self-assured person. When halfway through the record Landes asks, “What will I do? Where will I go?” — on the track “What Will I Do” — she doesn’t sound frantic. Landes surrenders to the unknown and answers her own questions: “only the moon and the stars can know.”
The New York-based singer-songwriter calls Meet Me at the River her “Nashville record.” Fred Foster, who has worked with Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and more, produced the record and Landes was joined in the studio by Charlie McCoy on harmonica, Eddie Bayers on drums, Bobby Wood on piano, and other seasoned players. The record sounds golden honey sweet as a result and the songs roll by with ease. The mandolin on upbeat opener “Meet Me at the River” sparkles playfully and the quick tempo “Southern Girl” is a fiery boot-stomping tune. Even when Landes is forlorn, like on the piano ballad “Old Memories,” a warmth remains.
On the record’s final three tracks, Landes pays homage to veteran country artists. “My Church” and “What Is the Color of the Soul of a Man” are both Jimmy Driftwood covers — her arrangement is significantly more full than the original — and the amusing closing track “I Don’t Dance” is a duet, a dance itself, between Landes and Bobby Bare.
Landes’ own spin on folk and country songwriting traditions are more captivating than her tributes to legends, though. “Why They Name Whiskey After Men” is a cheeky track that goes down smooth. Landes flips the worn comparison between women and whiskey and likens the drink’s effects to the pain that men cause: “Bet that’s why they name whiskey after men / comes on strong and keeps you warm before it starts to do you in,” she belts out. Accompanied by a lively backing band, Landes is at her loudest and most commanding on “Keep On Moving.” On this politically charged track, Landes calls for peace, and her songwriting is reminiscent of 1960s protest songs.
The confessional quality of Meet Me at the River is subtle. Songs like “Wind and Rain” and “Old Memories” are some of the few somber personal tracks, but for the most part, Landes delivers her album, and her feelings, with a wink and a grin like you’re already friends. And by record’s end, you are.