There is a time and place for almost any kind of music. Feeling angry? Try heavy metal. Depressed and maybe drunk? Early Tom Waits. In the mood for dancing to vapid pop? How ’bout some Lady Gaga? Hell, there’s even a time and place for Toby Keith’s over-the-top, flag-waving abomination, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” To every season, turn, turn, turn. But sometimes, figuring out when and where certain music should exist is particularly challenging.
Such is the case with local songwriter Dawna Hammers’ fifth album, Love & Loss. A mishmash of smooth vocal jazz and piano-driven, melodramatic pop, her latest feels like a record out of time. Though it has some nice moments, the album’s heavy-handedness often weighs it down. Like a frustrated lounge singer eternally stuck playing in a 1970s hotel bar, Hammers can’t seem to get out of the way of her own ruminations on romance and love gone bad.
It’s not that she lacks talent. Hammers is a solid player and has a pleasant voice. She also has a knack for melding jazz melodies and pop constructs. But too frequently, she sullies otherwise suitable performances with curiously bizarre choices.
Take the opening cut, “Mourning Dove.” For the most part, the song is a breezy, sweetly melancholy ballad. While she’s not breaking any molds lyrically, Hammers’ avian metaphor imparts the necessary degree of heartbreak, as does her airy melody. That is, until her piano progression is met by, ahem, a birdcall, played off key on an uncredited woodwind. The effect is jarring. Similarly, on the following song, “Oh Baby, Baby,” Hammers’ decision to speak rather than sing “I love you” as the final line cheeses an otherwise touching number.
Album highlights are those moments when Hammers simply allows her natural gifts to shine. “Bungalow Baby” is a bouncy, Randy Newman-esque charmer. “How Could You?” is an effectively moody heartbreaker, as is “Surrender.” Her take on Joni Mitchell’s “River” does the famed folk singer justice. “Shattered Dream” is dark and brooding, and ambitious enough to make one wonder why Hammers doesn’t just rely on the strength of her songcraft, instead of employing contrived machinations. Like birdcalls.
Indeed, there is a time and place for everything, even lounge-y dinner jazz. For example, at Parima’s Acoustic Lounge this Thursday, June 23, when Dawna Hammers releases Love & Loss. No cover if you buy dinner.