A little dark and angry, Sarah Rose Janko serves up another fine album.
Dawn Riding is essentially Sarah Rose Janko (singer/songwriter/guitar player) and her musical colleagues Jasmyn Wong (drums) and Hall McCann (electric guitar and vocals), and this is their third outing, an 8-song extended EP. With her friend and producer Alicia Vanden Heuvel she spent most of 2021 writing songs in a house in San Francisco which culminated in these reflections on abusive/submissive relationships, the Black Lives Matter movement, COVID death and so on. Janko has a darkness and a slight anger underpinning her songs, most of which are slow/medium paced. She has at times a soft, yet often a strong powerful voice reflecting her emotional attachment to each subject matter.
She has recruited some fine local musicians, even included a trumpet to overlay ‘Change in Tide’, a sad song about the death of a dear friend from COVID, where the instrument alludes to a funeral in New Orleans, where the two of them lived. Some haunting harmonica wails above the first two tracks, a suitable background to tales of self-destructive relationships, while Jacob Aranda’s tender pedal steel performs a similar function on a number of tracks.
This is strong meat lyrically but partially concealed by the pretty melodies and choruses, as in the first track ‘9 Lives’ “That was one of my nine lives He nearly took me out But I moved on down the line and Now it’s just a thing to sing about That was one of my nine lives I’m on 8 7 6 by now”
The tracks are short when compared with tracks on previous Dawn Riding albums – the angry ‘The Difference’ runs just two and half minutes but hits the spot more than once in its reaction to Black Lives Matter and the black experience in the US “I was reminded That all my family knows is crime And nobody knows hard time, But the cops kicked in the door And they took sweet Breonna’s life” and later “How can you wear your great grandmother’s pearls And you tell me the past is gone The books closed on yesterday But tomorrow’s coming fast along”.
‘Beautiful and Dangerous’ has haunting organ in the background as an alleviation from the minacious lyrics about submission “But if I hold you close Will I sink like a stone There’s a light you shine Cozy and warm But we all know the story of the girl Who flew too close to the sun”
It’s a thought-provoking album and will repay repeated listens with new insights and different interpretations. The ethereal ‘Hold On’ is a good example, with beautiful echoing vocals and its Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne‘ comparisons, while the equally opaque ‘Scales fall from my Eyes’ has a lovely interplay between voices, guitars and violin.
It is a beautifully played and produced set of songs and suggests that Janko has plenty more little vignettes and searing polemics to regale us with in the future