November 12, 2017
When the new album was released last month, I cheekily asked my friend, Turkish writer and translator Hande Eagle, if she would review it – despite the fact that she isn't currently working for any particular publication that might print it. I was just curious to see what would happen if she wove the workings of her unique heart and mind into the sounds on the record. She did not disappoint! Her words are a generous and beautiful gift. And she also generously gave her permission for me to publish them here. So here they are!
Dana Wylie’s fifth studio album “The Earth That You’re Made Of” is a culmination of many years of travelling through the world and the folks she met along the way. I am one of those fortunate souls who had a wonderful “chance encounter” with her back in 2014 when she was touring the UK with her band. I had heard a lot about her “crystal-clear” angel singing from mutual friends and I was curious to hear her live. Not only was I taken by her soulful and gentle demeanour but also sparks of the wild spirit I caught a glimpse of there and then. When Dana started singing I could feel the ground beneath my feet raising me, I could sense the nature of her music holding me, consoling me.
Then a couple of weeks ago, I came home and found a mustard yellow envelope in my mailbox. I knew immediately what it was before I even slit the paper with my trusted ruler. The best autumn listening I could have hoped for had finally arrived. I took the CD off its three-fold cover beautifully designed by Edmonton based artist Kendel Vreeling and just under it, a clean wreathe read, “A special thanks to L.C. for giving us a secular Hallelujah through which to submit to the irreconcilable mess with grace, attention and joy”. A truly timely tribute to legendary Canadian poet, musician and singer Leonard Cohen…
Listening time and time over to the first song, “Hallelujah Leonard Cohen Hallelujah” I found a sense of myself in the song filled with references to Cohen originals such as “Ain’t No Cure for Love”, “The Tower of Song”, “A Thousand Kisses Deep” and I go back to the summer of 2008 when I watched Cohen live in Istanbul… a deep sigh and a hat tip, and indigo darkness. Then a few years later, I would try my hand at translating a few of his poems from Book of Longing into Turkish. They are still on the back of my mind as I juggle with the meter and consonance of his lyrics. What truly astonished me was how perfectly Dana Wylie translated his oeuvre into a single, steady folk song. I think that Wylie is a rare contemporary musician who has refreshed and strengthened this good old genre – tucked away from the reach of populists – while staying true to its essence. It’s stardust folk.
The title track, “The Earth That You’re Made Of” is a sweet and sour declaration of a break-up and consequential healing. The lyrics “Escape the past / at last / the past is not coming back / nor is it going away” later followed by beautiful improvised vocals add a touch of soul and blues reminiscent of Etta James, another rainbow of sound who faded not so long ago.
The autumnal feel of this new album will be very apparent to those of us who feel the transition from summer to winter and directly find change in ourselves every time this time of the year comes knocking at our door. And that’s what I find in the track listing on the back cover of the album. It reads like a poem, an untraditional haiku: “Hallelujah Leonard Cohen Hallelujah / Stand Your Ground, Young Man / The Earth That You’re Made Of / Ten Thousand Miles / Let No Man Steal Your Thyme / You Are Good, You Are Kind / When You Are Old / Sliver of a Moon / Dig in Your Roots and Grow / Nothing Left To Do.”
In a way, that’s how the album is; it rolls along and takes us through the familiar story of life, our processes of packing away memories, shedding our skin and giving in to ourselves. “You Are Good, You Are Kind” reveals insight into old love found anew and how we can be kind in accepting our past differences and the pain we suffered. Featuring a wonderfully melodious string quartet (Nick Drake rings in my ears as I listen), Wylie’s punchy piano and steady rising brasses, this song could potentially serve as a fantastic soundtrack to a Remodernist film.
Drawn to the moon like a planet orbiting it, Dana Wylie is connected to all things ethereal and she reflects this in “Sliver of a Moon”, a song that’s all the more enigmatic for its lyrics. Interpretations are boundless but the musicality is certain.
There is light towards the end of the Wylie tunnel. “Dig in Your Roots and Grow”, a song about the years she spent travelling (with particular emphasis on her time in Taiwan) and how true love takes its course through the earth that we are made of: if experience was to be represented by leaf mould, and time by sand and grit, and healing meant nailing down a perfect ratio of these elements to compose the most suitable soil to dig in our roots and grow… The farm girl from Saskatchewan has matured into a sublime poet, singer and songwriter with her feet solidly on the ground.