"Ten Dollar Dress," the full-length debut by Montreal's Dawn Tyler Blues Project, isn't really a blues album at all, at least not by typical twelve-bar standards. Yet it remains a profoundly bluesy listening experience.
With one exception - a surprising reinvention of "Purple Haze" - the songs are all Dawn's, and she crosses boundaries at will; jazz, blues, soul, and swing, it's all here.
From the yearning of "Cigarette," where Dawn explores the vulnerability that uncontrollable love exposes us to, to the indomitable strength she imparts to "You Can't Be True" (more than a bit of Tony Lynn Washington here), from the knowing wisdom of "Hey Hey" to the sly exuberance of "Rollin' Joe" (complete with a mouth trombone solo - first I've heard since Johnny Adams passed on), Dawn proves adept at every style. "Latex," a cautionary message to errant lovers, positively bounces along, driven by Sam Harrisson's busy snare, while "Shoot The Devil" is a moody, atmospheric meditation on the desperation that comes of living in an impersonal world; "Take It Outside" swings like mad, before a sharp turn takes us to "Abused," a chilling condemnation of spousal abuse. "Nobody Home," too, deals with alienation and the need to retain a sense of self. "Come-n'-get-it" is a funky invitation few could resist, while "Movin' On" is a heartbreaking ballad about just that, the need to move on when a relationship has run its course. Dawn's largely acoustic take (tho' guest Jimmy James' electric guitar does make a furious appearance) on "Purple Haze" seems a curious closer, but reveals a facility for jazzy improvisation reminiscent of Cassandra Wilson.
Dawn proves a wonderful songwriter, fearlessly tackling weighty subjects with a deft lyric touch and employing inventive arrangements. Indeed, it's the arrangements that take most of the material beyond pure blues. There's an unfailingly bluesy sensibility, however, to everything Dawn sings. (In this she reminds me of Maria Muldaur).
Dawn's core trio is solid, but it's the guests that make this project so successful. Brothers Peter (B3 and piano) and Danny (acoustic guitar, dobro, mandolin) Ranallo, along with Craig Hodgson's sax work, bring a rich complexity to the sound. Danny's acoustic fretwork, in particular, lends a southern soul feel that seems equal parts dusty road and desolation.
But - saving the best for last - it's Dawn's voice that raises this disc to the level of masterpiece. It's a supple, sultry, sexy marvel, a scintillating instrument of seductive allure, and she infuses every line with an equal measure of smarts and sass. Possessed of a seemingly innate feel for subtlety and nuance and blessed with impeccable phrasing, Dawn can impart more meaning in a single whisper than most vocalists can in a month of shouting.
This ten dollar dress is draped upon a multi-million dollar musical talent. A wonderful disc - my very highest recommendation!
Preservation Records Inc.,
16700 Trans-Canada Highway,
Canada H9H 4M7
This review is copyright © 2001 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.