- Xenia Dunford, Flesh and Bone (& Everything Within) Side A
(Self-released, digital download)
Guts: Literally, we all have them. But whether someone figuratively has guts is not so universal. For example, it's easy to be self-deprecating when you're trying to make people laugh. But when you pair that with darkly intimate and candid expressions of your innermost thoughts and desires, well, that's gutsy. Burlington singer-songwriter Xenia Dunford demonstrates as much on her new EP, Flesh and Bone (& Everything Within) Side A.
If "Side A" in that title has you thinking sequel, you're on to something. Instead of crafting a cohesive full-length LP, Dunford simultaneously created material with two different sets of personnel across two New England states — one for each "side." A, released in early April, was conceived at Burlington's Future Fields, with Madaila bassist Jer Coons serving alongside the singer-songwriter as coproducer. Another two-fifths of Madaila, Eric Maier and Dan Ryan, also contribute instrumentation, as do hometown heroes Kelly Ravin and Zack DuPont, among others. (Side B, recorded in Somerville, Mass., was released last week.)
Though "country" is not one of the 14 tags Dunford uses on Bandcamp to describe and classify her initial four-song effort, it's hard not to categorize some of what she does here as such. Perhaps it's the reflective wisps of pedal steel on opening track "Coming Home" or the way she breaks her voice for emphasis that recalls the more homogenized (and least twangy) works of Kacey Musgraves or Brandi Carlile. Not exactly jazz or soul or R&B (as the tags indicate), Dunford skirts categorization by existing in fractured stylistic spaces.
Under gauzy guitar accents and fizzy snares, "Coming Home" is a glistening ode to acceptance. The song's up-front placement on the EP primes the listener for a hopeful journey.
In another dulcet slow jam, "Friday Night," Dunford finds solace in a fleeting romantic connection. Cascades of reverb-soaked guitar envelop the songwriter in a hazy din.
Galloping, rat-a-tat hi-hats propel smoldering, wavering organ chords on "It's Not Too Late," a song about drowning your sorrows in a bath of toxic thoughts and alcohol. She sings, "Well I'll go crazy / And you'll get married / And you'll think of me / And hope I'm not too damaged." Clearly in the bargaining stage of grief, she desperately yearns: "It's not too late for you to love me."
"Happy," the EP's closer, glows with '70s soft-rock organ, brazen guitar licks and a foundation of radiant synth. Dunford pleads with a lover to move on to someone else, because, "She will love you good / Give you all that I never could." But the song's unbridled, freewheeling beat signals release as opposed to loss.
Dunford's all-star team of players lavishly supports her core foundation of soulful songwriting. Her ruminations on love, doubt, loneliness and forbearance are relatable, poignant and evergreen.
Flesh and Bone (& Everything Within) Side A is available at xeniadunford.bandcamp.com.