Nataly Dawn’s voice is a force to be reckoned with. At times, it can be deep, rich, and sultry – like that of a younger, more innocent Chan Marshall – or eclectic and jarring in a way that evokes Regina Spektor. Her solo debut, How I Knew Her, paints a picture of a young woman discovering her own talents, and taking a great amount of joy in doing so.
Independence is a virtue that Dawn clearly holds dear, as evidenced by a song like “Why Did You Marry”, a wistful ditty that relies on baroque piano and string accompaniment to gently mourn for a friend who, in Dawn’s view, has married at a grievously young age. “Did no one ever tell you to fly to the moon / to not get tied down too soon / to shop around?” she asks. It’s a refreshing rejoinder to the wedding industrial complex, particularly when Dawn sings, “It’s just like in the movies and novels and plays / where no one ever says / ‘Thanks Cary Grant, but I think I’ll just get my own place.’”
“Please Don’t Scream” is an ode to a tempestuous relationship. The tune itself is light-hearted and jangles along, but the sprightly mood is juxtaposed by the song’s central character, an unsettling, verbally aggressive significant other. Dawn’s songs often contain dark material wrapped up in the pretty bow of her voice – not unusual for a singer-songwriter, but made more jarring by how innocent she sounds.
The title track is the album’s high-water mark. Dawn speaks to an absent maternal figure in terms of the spaces she has left in Dawn’s life: “But no one can sing the third verse of that hymn you played on that old organ in the parlor,” she sings over minor-key strings and a fierce drum beat. “Did you not want us to remember?” It’s a haunting and sometimes convoluted narrative, but what Dawn lacks in clarity, she makes up for in sheer force.
Key Tracks: “Why Did You Marry,” “Please Don’t Scream” and “How I Knew Her”