Daughter of Swords - Dawnbreaker - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Daughter of Swords - Dawnbreaker

by Mark Moody Rating:8 Release Date:2019-06-28
Daughter of Swords - Dawnbreaker
Daughter of Swords - Dawnbreaker

Alexandra Sauser-Monnig breathes into the lyrics of the opening ‘Fellows’ on her Daughter of Swords debut and revives the over a century old process of the field recording.  When Alan Lomax and his father John set out into the American wilderness back in the 1930s, Sauser-Monnig was exactly the sort of character they hoped to encounter.  Rumors of such a singer would lure them into the rolling hills of the Piedmont region of North Carolina in the expectation that someone would point them in the right direction.  Pulling into Sauser-Monnig’s yard (the one from which her lover would soon depart), Lomax would pop the trunk to reveal hundreds of pounds of recording equipment.  With a train whistle blowing in the background, not only would they discover that Sauser-Monnig has a heart-piercing voice, but that she’s one hell of a guitar player and has more than a handful of music-making friends.

Like the tradition that inspires her, Sauser-Monnig pulls topics from the natural world that surrounds her as well as the everyday people she encounters.  The approach brought us ancient songs with titles like ‘Mama Buy Me a Chiney Doll’ and ‘Church In The Wildwood’, but on Dawnbreaker the plain spoken ‘Fellows’ is a sparse read on the men in Sauser-Monnig’s life.  Accompanied with only her own fluid guitar she cooly sings “he gave to me his love and I couldn’t give mine”.  In the school of say what you mean, it’s as stark a line as you will get.  The nearly as spare ‘Human’ showcases the pureness of her vocal as she longs simply to be understood, while the closing title song has woman becoming one with nature - “I dreamed I was a white rose open”. 

What the Lomaxes would hope for in return for their investment though was not a single performer, but one whose pappy could play the fiddle and maybe a jug blowing cousin down the road.  Sauser-Monnig wouldn’t have disappointed them as she brings many a friend to the kitchen table here.  First, we meet fellow Mountain Man alumnus Molly Sarlé who adds harmony vocals to the gorgeous ‘Grasses’.  Another song that basks in the natural world - the smell of summer rain and tall grasses swayed by invisible forces.  Filling things out further, Amelia Meath (Sylvan Esso/Mountain Man) joins the two on the ancient pulse of ‘Long Leaf Pine’.  There is no doubt that Sauser-Monnig’s spirit is what powers Dawnbreaker, but the layered vocals here point to the fuel of joined forces.

For fear of having you think that the album is a dusty trove of long-forgotten acoustic folk songs, it turns out that Sauser-Monnig has a trick up her sleeve.  She goes toe to img 4790 copy copytoe with the Lomaxes haul of machinery with Nick Sanborn’s (Sylvan Esso) MacBook and drum machines.  The combination is best heard on the glistening single ‘Gem’ where Sauser-Monnig melds a coast-to-coast sized well of regret with the expanse of what surrounds her.  The gentle clicks of ‘Shining Woman’ embrace one of the townsfolk that populates the song, not unlike Victoria Williams’ wide-eyed observations.  No doubt the Lomaxes’ battery powered recording unit (inset) was to cope with the reality of venturing into regions not yet touched by the magic of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s electrical generation.  But as exotic as Sanborn’s devices would have seemed at the time they feel right in stride with Dawnbreaker’s course.

In spite of the heartbreak that bubbles under many of the songs on the album, most of all Dawnbreaker revels in the joy of making music with and about the simplest of things.  Voices that sing of a raindrop that seeps through a canopy of trees, guitars that soothe the ache of loss, and machines that sound as human as the breath that powers the harmonica of ‘Rising Sun’.  Like Eerie Wanda’s Pet Town of earlier this year, Sauser-Monnig’s Dawnbreaker takes a small clutch of disparate ingredients and mixes them into the balm you didn’t know you needed until it was applied.


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