ALBUM REVIEW: Genevieve Dawson – ‘Letters I Won’t Send’

Edinburgh born, London-based musician Genevieve Dawson has been impressing our ears ever since her debut EP release, Things My Mother Tells Me. Since then she’s gone from strength to strength, and last month released her debut LP, Letters I Won’t Send via Hertha Records, an independent co-operative label based in South East London for women and non-binary people.

Having last year won the Drake Yolanda Emerging Artist award, Dawson’s gained comparisons to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Laura Marling and The Staves, none of which are unfounded in this marvelous release. The album was recorded in a self-built studio in a North London church, alongside a collaborative musical community that has blossomed around her live shows. There’s a level of artistic maturity evident here that’s remarkable for a first major release. Proving herself once again to be an open and generous collaborator, she makes space to all the artists involved in these recordings to fully flesh out and explore her sound, all of which comes across in a clear, balanced production.

Mountain‘ starts off proceedings with a hypnotic piano line that reminded me of Amnesiac-era Radiohead, her band moving the track along at a rolling, steady pace that hooks into your ear from the first listen. There’s an instinctive, unforced quality that shines through from the start of this collection of songs, you can hear the level of care and detail that has gone into crafting them.

Former single Tight Lips‘ drew much praise from us earlier this year, its dreamy, soothing atmosphere, a real tonic in these turbulent times. A standout, rolling saxophone line from Chelsea Carmichael, interspersed in waves throughout, really elevates the number.

Dawson’s voice, as we’ve mentioned in previous reviews, is nuanced and powerful in equal measure, providing a gentle, soothing quality throughout the album that naturally weaves its way through each number. There’s a quiet confidence that sits at the heart of Dawson’s music, that never once sounds forced in the emotions she’s conveying. ‘Swallowed The Stars‘ in particular uses her vocals to astonishing effect, wrapping multiple layers of harmonies around a spacey, ethereal backing. Personal tracks are at times delivered in little more than a whisper, as if Dawson is confiding some long-held secret with the listener.

Lyrically Dawson presents her words with an emotional intelligence that eludes a great many artists, describing this album in her own words as “a collection of gently woven goodbyes, [exploring] the themes of grief and love, as two sides of the same coin.” Frequently, she uses imagery grounded in nature as a motif, such as “I know what you are/ You’re not the tide, you’re the wind” on ‘I Know What You Are,’ and “You’re the source of the river in me […] You’re the sea that is rising in me” on ‘Tight Lips‘. These simple, elegant phrasings work throughout to build a natural, organic feel to the music.

The album rounds out with the recently released single ‘Carry It Slowly,‘ which was recorded live in a single take, and beautifully captures a tender moment. With a simple, elegant guitar line as accompaniment, it’s a perfect way to leave us, conveying so much with so little.

Praise has come from many quarters, including the likes of Tom Robinson and Gideon Coe of 6 Music, and BBC Radio London’s Robert Elms. Back in April when I first heard Genevieve’s music, I wrote the following, which remains just as relevant now as it did six months ago: “There’s no doubt that the turbulent times that we’re currently living through have rooted an array of anxieties in our collective consciousness. As is often the case for many of us when faced with times of hardship, we turn to music, the art form that above all others provides solace and brings us together. We seek out songs of compassion and comfort that promote a sense of communal spirit, and it is sublime work such as Genevieve’s that helps us to do so.”

It’s a strange time to be releasing new music, especially given the desperate situation the arts sector finds itself in right now. Dawson’s work is a vital reminder of how vibrant and important music is, the inspiration and comfort that it can provide us. Letters I Won’t Send is available to stream and purchase now, and the release was celebrated recently by a launch show at St Pancras Old Church in London. Immediately filed as one of our highlights of the year, we’ll be playing this one on repeat for many months to come.

Letters I Won’t Send is out now on Hertha Records – available digitally and on CD via Genevieve Dawson’s official Bandcamp page, here.

Find Genevieve Dawson on Facebook and Twitter.

Callum Mitchell-Simon
Writer and presenter based in Manchester. Contributor to several music sites, and also on air every Monday @9pm on Salford City Radio, playing a host of new and unsigned acts.

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