Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Grant Johnson at Good Danny's, Austin, Texas
For Dana Falconberry and her band, the source for inspiration and passing the time on a recent tour of the United States was an old baby doll that looked as if it were possessed by a very passive, waiting to pounce version of Satan. They photographed the doll in different settings - though mostly riding shotgun in the van, it seemed - with many different props that helped to make the doll pass as a living object, captured in a still-frame picture. These photos were posted multiple times daily and the doll, Sue, got continually more evil looking, but Falconberry and crew only appeared to become more and more attached to the poor, creepy thing. It was a strange substitute for what the Texas singer and songwriter would have needed to get in her van if she really wanted to travel with her the inspiration for her latest album, "Leelanau," which was recorded at Good Danny's in Austin, Texas, the same studio where this session was taped. In order to tote along what serves as her normal inspiration, she would have needed a van with a dirt floor that was capable of being watered. She would have likely had to tour solo so that she could have removed all of the benches for her prairie garden of sunflowers, milkweeds, thistles, oak trees, strawberries and ivy. She would have needed a retractable roof and the time to just enjoy it all - to study its green growth. She would have needed critters and earthworms and spiders, bumblebees and caterpillars and more birds than would ever fit in a van with a roof. It was lucky for her that most of those things, if she looked hard enough, were passing by outside the windows of the van. She likely sat there, eating up whatever scenery she could get as the numbing hours clawed by.
Her songs, while dealing with many personal matters and all of those messy things that people get themselves into with other people, are set into place by her vivid descriptions of a world that could care less about who's missing who, who's loving who or what anyone's feeling at any given time. It's a world that's wholly disconnected from any possible misinterpretation. It's just out there, swaying in the breeze, praying for rain or some shade or trying to find breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The same still applies as it did the first time she paid us a visit. She uses a soft and cooing voice - one that is halfway between that of a Joanna Newsom and that of a mother hen humming to herself, under her breath, while cooking some homemade deserts in the kitchen on a warm day. She's going to offer those deserts. She's going to dish them out and she'll hand you a fork, ask if you'd like one or two scoops of vanilla ice cream on the side and than watch as you take that first bite in, expecting that you'll instinctually pull your eyes closed and let out a satisfied moan.
With the new album, it does feel like there's a bit more of a darker feel, something that Sue might have had a hand in. There's more loss, more longing, even when she's surrounded by her elements. She misses people and she misses places more. There's a sense that certain chapters are closing and there's just no chance for re-reading. She sings, "Did you think of me that day/When you drove down the driveway/I was a handful then I know, with my shoes untied/I wouldn't watch the sunset/Without a coat and a helmet/I was a quavering maple leaf about to drop," on "Lake Charlevoix" and it feels like that gorgeous, never-ending question that she must keep asking, even as she's surrounded by pretty hills and unspeaking stems.
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