Let’s get this set from the beginning; this is not a straight up and down soul album. To start there’s no horn section, instead there’s lead guitar. Also the tracks average around the five minute mark, unlike the usual three minute standard. These things in mind though, Dawn has to be one of the best soul albums of the year and we’re not just talking Australian releases either. The fact it comes from the inner streets of Melbourne though should not be surprising given the wellspring of soulful talent streaming out of the city’s laneways this year; see Saskwatch, The Harpoons et al.
Emma Donovan should be no stranger to those abreast of the broader Australian music scene but more familiar to those in the country-rock realm with her solo work and also in groups such as Black Arm Band. Touring with this group led her to meeting Mick Meagher, bass player for Melbourne funksters The Putbacks and it was not long until each of them knew they had found a song writing soul-mate.
Dawn opens with the incinerating strokes of Tom Martin’s guitar, more reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane than Aretha Franklin, which sets the tone nicely for a record which disregards the ‘soul-revivalist’ tag by bringing its own swagger. This task comes down to The Putbacks who lay down a foundation which incorporates a groove heavy palette for Donovan’s honest and open lyrics to take a hold. Followed by My Goodness and title track, Dawn which fit back to a more traditional soul tempo. Side A finishes with the slow burner Mother which then flips to the lead single Daddy, a nice play on words which ties in the family themes throughout the record. Daddy was the first taste of this new collaboration unleashed on the public which opens the conga rhythms and creeping keys feeling like the opener to an Australian version of Shaft. Daddy oozes with cool and announces a true soul force which can’t be ignored.
Things take a more laid back route from here touching on themes from Donovan’s musical and personal journey in tracks such as Come Back to Me. Over Under Away brings proceedings to a close with Donovan laying down her story with emotional honesty, which when it boils down to it, is the source of truly great soul.
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Emma Donovan & The Putbacks tour nationally this month playing Motor Room, Brisbane on Saturday 20 December.