mon 05/10/2015

Dawn Kinnard, The Serpentine Sessions | New music reviews, news & interviews

Dawn Kinnard, The Serpentine Sessions

Pennsylvanian preacher's daughter fights to get noticed at disappointing Serpentine Sessions

Dawn Kinnard, keeping the dream alive

On the face of it, comparisons could be drawn between Dawn Kinnard and fellow preacher’s-offspring-cum-country-singer, Diane Birch. Except Birch’s music comes from every musical advantage, whereas Kinnard still has a day-job as a hairdresser. Moreover, her voice remains totally unproduced - a glorious mix of Tom Waits and Marge Simpson. This summer, for the second time in three years, she has put her savings on the line to try to make it here. 

Last time round, Kinnard, then staying chez Cerys Matthews, enjoyed a barnstorming session on Later with Jools Holland. Last night things looked a little more threadbare. The Serpentine Session's so-called bandstand stage turned out to be barely a gazebo, opposite the bar and next to a Mexican food stall. With characteristic impeccable American manners Kinnard delt with it with grace. Still, I doubt any number of gigs in Southern sports bars could have really prepared her for coming on to the sound of munched nachos and folding deck-chairs. 

She played seven tracks, all from the new album. There was no full band or New Orleans-style brass section, like on the new album - just Kinnard plus guitar, a bass and a drum kit. “Death is a Shark” and “Are You Still crazy About Yourself?”  seemed to have a dark sultry jazz feeling. “Japan” was a strange and ghostly song about love and belonging and leaving, and “The Queen of the World” a light and ironically triumphant take on love. But the best songs were “Bicycle”, which had a fevered quality, “Favourite Ghost”  a straight country lament, and “The Cost of Love” which beautifully oscillated between sorrow and forgetfulness. 

Kinnard started off looking bemused staring out at an audience mainly comprised of event photographers, but her confidence picked up. By the time she was into “Bicycle” and “The Cost of Love” she was back to her trademark “Elvis shaking legs” and screwed-up eyes. And afterwards, she thanked those of us who'd listened with a sincere smile, lit up a cigarette and strolled over to watch Patti Smith. 


Still, what were the event organisers thinking of? It’s obvious that the Serpentine Sessions was created as a way of capitalising on unused festival space in the hiatus between the Hard Rock Calling and Wireless festivals, but given the line-up – it reads like a warm up to the alternative folk-rock of the Latitude festival – how did they end up using for one stage a tent so large that it will surely terrify Laura Marling this Thursday (pictured left), and for the second stage a small pagoda in the corner of a beer-garden-cum- food-court. And all around lying empty are medium-sized marquees of the sort of size most of the crowd presumably had in mind when they bought their tickets.

For those who would like to see Kinnard in a more appropriate environment, she has just announced a showcase of her new album this Monday at the Borderline. 

Watch Dawn Kinnard perform "One Little Step Away" on Later with Jools Holland

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