Dawn Landes – Sweetheart Rodeo (Cooking Vinyl)

Dawn Landes has perfected the art of the small song. Sweetheart Rodeo, her second release on Cooking Vinyl, is one of those albums that steadfastly refuses to push boundaries, but it’s so solidly constructed that it still feels progressive.

Like an American answer to Julie Doiron, Landes anchors her songs with her crisp voice, which bristles with energy even in the album’s rare melancholy moments. Despite subject matter that flirts with the downside of love, Landes is no sad sweetheart, as proven by tracks like opener “Young Girl,” a relative raver with its incessant organ riff, and the title track, which could be a less surreal Frank Black and the Catholics number.

Landes’s rodeo largely resides in the realm of the mid-tempo, but even there she finds room to play. “Clown” rides a cheap Casio lick to endearing effect, while “Love” brings a laid-back groove to Margo Guryan’s forgotten jazz-folk psych-out, and first single “Romeo” reduces love to a Sisyphean task through its references to workingman’s lament “16 Tons.” And even if things start to get a little similar as Landes settles into her country-folk routine, she keeps the album as concise as the songs. At barely over a half-hour, this is one rodeo that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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