Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Throw some sawdust on any old love and it sounds like a beautifully tortured one, a love that circles around on an endless night and makes us crack and quake, sink into its buzzy maze. It gives us the shakes and turns us into headcases, throwing ourselves onto pillowcases and mattresses in sad flings. Throw some sawdust on any old love in a different way and it's the same thing you might do to a pile of vomit in an elementary school hallway to neutralize the aroma or what a cat does with a steaming heap of its business out in the yard, scratching at the grass and the dirt to cover the stench with anything, out of a courtesy to the next being to come around, but also as a practical joke. It's a bit like taking partial credit for what was just created, but also burying it as deep as physically capable of and then getting as far away from it as possible. We've gotten off to an auspicious beginning here in this essay about Dawn Landes' new album, "Sweetheart Rodeo," but these tactics seem little out of place when she's contemplating the theory of love and where the strings get pulled that cause the bottom to fall out and suddenly something that used to be lovely and edible, delectable and appetizing is transformed into something that we just want to flush. Our questions are sent to the mystics and often unanswered, just the funny pieces of chatter that float and float, the silent cries for assistance that make the greatest quilt of comedy - started long, long ago and easily added to, without even knowing it.
Landes, a New York-dwelling songwriter who happens to be married to songwriter Josh Ritter, has a honey-crisp style of singing that sounds, on this record, like an old-time bluegrass singer, in the way that Jenny Lewis does, and she goes further in her exploration of the way that the act of love makes its duds, those fireworks that are lit, shot out and up from the ground only to hit their apex, pop and show none of their brilliance - no flash, no showy display, no breathtaking few seconds, when the colored fire suddenly usurps the entire sky and blows the eyes a thousand kisses. Landes sings on "Love," "Why do we grow and never show the little that we know of love?" starting the song, "What does it mean to live between the beginning and ending of love?" as if there's any conceptual or even ambiguous answer to such a query. It takes all you have - whether or not you've grown old enough to have finally reached some kind of satisfying personal evidence of love working - to stop youself from saying, "Screw love. It's a hoax, my friend." She gets to the song, "Romeo," and the man who is supposed to be the savior, the one that a girl dreams her whole life about finding one day, is left to be described as someone who's gonna get theirs after stringing a girl along, waiting by the phone and watching the grass grow. There's an awakening of sorts, where love and its acquaintances are seen as more bitter than sweet and we're left to understand that we're usually left without closure, but another dot, dot, dot. We are stuck here, trying to learn from our mistakes, throwing that sawdust down, but then just getting tricked into those same corners, stepping in our old messes when we should have known better.