AMERICAN country singer Dawn Landes made an inspired decision in asking legendary but semi-retired Nashville producer Fred Foster to work his olden magic on her fifth album.

Country Music Hall of Fame alumnus Foster, now 86, had produced Dolly Parton’s debut album, Roy Orbison’s biggest hits and some of Landes’ favourite Kris Kristofferson songs.

Latterly, Foster had produced records only sporadically for friends such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price.

“He had never heard of me and was surprised that it was going to be my fifth album, though he does keep in touch with music, mainly at the Grammys, so it was kind of fun, a challenge, that I had to win him over,” says 37-year-old Dawn.

You can hear Landes’ new songs from the resulting Meet Me At The River album at The Basement, City Screen, tomorrow night when she plays York for the first time since 2015.

Landes, a Kentucky-born singer-songwriter long resident in New York, cold-called Foster from a tour with singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens in New Zealand. Initially, she was concerned that it might feel like “an invasion of privacy, but I think he was delighted by it, and didn’t say ‘No’ outright! I think his exact words were, ‘send me some music and I’ll see if there’s something I can contribute, which was his way of saying ‘maybe’,” Dawn recalls.

“It took a lot of phone calls and snail mail and even driving. I was living in New York at the time [Landes has since re-located to Nashville] and had to drive the 14 hours to Nashville...and that must have impressed him.”

They duly spent hours in Foster’s Tennessee home; listening to Hank Williams and trading stories as Landes showed off heart-wrenching vocals and expressive songwriting. Foster's semi-retirement was at an end.

Landes arrived for the recording sessions with a set of what she considered to be complete songs. Not so, according to Mr Foster. “He’d say, ‘That one has potential’; ‘this is a possibility’,” she recalls.

“I’ve been thinking about it, and the only other time that something like this happened was when I showed people my lyrics before recording them, and that was when I was at college and every Monday at the Fast Folk songwriters’ exchange everyone would read the Iyrics while I sang the song.

“That was a vulnerable feeling, but I did that when I was 20, at the Fast Folk gatherings at Jack Hardy’s house in Greenwich Village, so that was a good experience to call on.

York Press:

"I made sure not to talk politics," says Dawn Landes, recalling her recording sessions with legendary producer Fred Foster

“It was in the era ten years after Dylan. Townes Van Zandt, Suzanne Vega, passed through Fast Folk, but by the time I did it, it had morphed into being at Jack’s house.”

She saw the opportunity to work with Foster as a learning experience. “I learnt so much from him and his sense of judgement,” says Dawn.

"He'd produced Dolly Parton's first album, but she was much younger than me, a teenager, when she made it, but I was also thinking about Joan Baez's album recorded with Fred in Nashville, working with some great Nashville musicians.

"He'd worked with her because she'd sung on Kris Kristofferson's recordings – though he didn't like her politics, so I made sure not to talk politics."

Brought together largely by Kyle Lehning, Landes recorded Meet Me At River at the Sound Emporium studio with "the heaviest hitters around", as she called harmonica player Charlie McCoy, guitarist Steve Gibson, drummer Eddie Bayers, Elvis In Memphis guitarist Bobby Wood, steel guitr player Russ Pahl and bassist Larry Paxton.

"It was also Kyle's suggestion I should sing a duet [I Don't Dance] with Bobby Bare [the Ohio country singer, now aged 83], but you just had to mention Fred Foster and all these musicians were so excited to work with him again," says Dawn.

Along with her own songs on "the big themes of life", from heartbreak and wanderlust to reckoning with youth, she recorded two Jimmy Driftwood covers, The Church and What Is The Color Of The Soul Of Man, as recommended by Foster, who had produced Driftwood's records in the Sixties.

 "Fred introduced me to a whole bunch of older music, mostly from the Monument label, including Jimmy's albums, and I just fell in love with his music," says Dawn. "I think of him as a humanist, a very open soul to the human condition, very sympathetic."

Reflecting on the experience of recording with Foster, Dawn says: "I just connected with him and he just seemed like a friend, like my first friend in Nashville, though we were never going to hang out!"

Please Please You presents Dawn Landes at The Basement, City Screen, York, tomorrow night (October 16), supported by JF Robitaille & Lail Arad at 8pm. Box office:

York Press:

Danw Landes: singer, songwriter, producer, engineer, composer of musicals

Did you know?

Dawn Landes has recorded five studio albums and five EPs to date. In support of these releases, she has toured extensively in the United States, Europe and around the world, often sharing the stage with artists such as Ray Lamontagne, Feist, Andrew Bird, José González, The Weakerthans, Midlake, Suzanne Vega and Sufjan Stevens.

As an instrumentalist, she has toured as part of New York City American roots band Hem and Sufjan Stevens' touring band.

As a producer and engineer, she has worked at Stratosphere Sound in New York City and at Philip Glass's recording studio. In 2007, she helped to found Saltlands Studio in Brooklyn, New YorkY. She has collaborated with contemporaries Justin Townes Earle, Will Oldham and Josh Ritter in the studio.

Landes' songs have featured in commercials, films and televison shows, such as The Good Wife and House. She has performed with The Boston Pops, NYC Ballet and at a TED Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, highlighting her forthcoming musical Row.

If you have never heard her bluegrass cover of Peter Bjorn And John's Young Folks, hurry along to YouTube now.

Album review

Dawn Landes, Meet Me At The River (Yep Roc) ****
DAWN Landes' journey has taken her from Louisville, Kentucky, to Brooklyn, New York, and now to Nashville, as the 37-year-old singer heads to the Tennessee country capital for a new dawn.

The big talking point is not so much Dawn's move – she was already a superlative country artist – but her successful request to Country Hall of Fame producer and Monument Records founder Fred Foster to come out of (semi-) retirement in his mid-80s to add to a CV that boasts Dolly Parton's debut, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Roy Orbison.

What's more, this has brought access to Nashville session alumni, such as Elvis's pianist Bobby Wood and even Seventies' country star Bobby Bare for a playful duet on the closing I Don't Dance.

Meet Me At The River and Why They Name Whiskey After Men are instant country classics and two Jimmy Driftwood covers suggested by Foster wholly suit Landes's pure, pure voice. Catch her at The Basement, City Screen, on October 17.
Charles Hutchinson