Alexandra Sauser-Monnig’s sparse collection of softly spoken folk confessionals inhabits the drowsy terrain of late summer nights out on the front porch or around a campfire.
Daughter of Swords’ Dawnbreaker is a dusty, bare-bones evocation of the texture of languid, long summer nights, a soundtrack for tranquil moments of solitude and contemplation. At its best, when summoning the ancient pulse of Appalachian folk, it’s slinky and seductive; the Mountain Man singer’s solo debut is a toasty embrace of a record which crackles with a warm soulfulness and rewards repeated exposure.
Working with Sylvan Esso’s Nick Sanborn, the breathy-voiced Sauser-Monnig explores the fault lines in a dissolving relationship whilst basking in the rousing glow of nature and beckoning new possibilities of liberation and reinvention. She ruminates on heartbreak and loss with a measured sangfroid; there’s no violent exorcising or recrimination but a sense of philosophical acceptance etched into her soothing acoustic guitar strums, intimate lyrics and serene vocals.
Opener Fellows emerges into the light with its stark folk-blues treatment of a chance meeting with a “wild and shy” man: “He gave to me his love and I couldn’t give mine”. Its spectral haze is followed by the chirpy sunshine lilt of Gem, all gently plucked guitars, skipping percussion and subtle icicles of toy keyboard lines. Framed as a letter to the “heartbeat rhythm of your gold soul”, it’s not the first time her ethereal but earthy vocal timbres and phrasing betray flecks of Gillian Welch.
Fields Of Gold, Shining Woman and Rising Sun dial up country inflections with a swooning grace and an inky grit. On the lovely Grasses, delicate finger-picked guitar dances around the keening melancholy of the singer-songwriter’s voice. The beautiful title track and the entrancing Human both conjure a rich, unhurried soundscape with just guitar and icy-clear vocals, documenting new beginnings with a wise fatalism and an acknowledgement that change is difficult.
Like a minimalist painting, the effects of Sauser-Monnig’s hushed dream weaving take a while to register but they linger with a sharp resonance, partly dependent on the listener putting in some of the spadework. Daughter Of Swords’ opening salvo is a radiant private journal of a record that dares to confront the challenge of awkward truths, aching wants and looking ahead; its ample open spaces, cascading lyricism and arresting luminescence make it an album which sticks to your bones.
By Michael Sumsion