After a career that has often defied genres, Dawn Landes is now staking her claim in Nashville music — but don’t think she hasn’t arrived without some hefty country credentials.
An actual coal miner’s daughter from Kentucky, she grew up listening to Loretta Lynn, once entered a Dolly Parton tribute competition, and for her new album, she attracted the participation of three Country Music Hall of Famers.
Meet Me at the River isn’t set for release until Aug. 10, but Landes, 37, is offering a sneak peek in a video for the song “Traveling,” debuting exclusively on PEOPLE.
Here are five things to know about the singer-songwriter who visited Nashville to make her album and ended up staying.
1. The twang in her voice comes naturally.
Landes calls it a “lilt,” but she says, “people have always thought I had a twang in my voice, and my parents were always like, where did that come from?”
A native of Indiana, she grew up mostly in Kentucky; Loretta Lynn once actually came to sing at the coal mine where her father worked. After graduating from New York University, Landes stuck around in the city to become part of its folk music scene and to build a career as a producer and sound engineer.
2. She’s attracted to the vintage Nashville “countrypolitan” sound.
Landes’ musical output – five albums over the past 13 years – is an eclectic assortment of indy rock, folk, and pop sounds (including an entire album sung in French). But she’s always been attracted to the lush sounds and legendary artists who came out of country in the 1960s. About four years ago, with more than a little bit of Dolly’s register in her voice, she came in second at an annual competition in Sevierville, Tennessee, that honors Parton’s songwriting.
“I did it on a whim,” she says. “My friend dared me to enter it.”
Tennessee continued to beckon, and after traveling to Nashville for songwriting sessions, Landes decided a couple of years ago that she had to record her own countrypolitan album.
“That’s what I was going for, but I didn’t know how to get it myself,” she says. “I thought it would be great to work with someone who was sort of entrenched in the long-ago scene. I went straight to the source.”
3. She talked a country legend out of semi-retirement to produce the album.
Determined to produce an authentic sound, Landes set her sights on Fred Foster, the Hall of Fame member who was pivotal in the careers of Parton, Roy Orbison and Kris Kristofferson. Now 86, Foster hadn’t produced an album since 2007 – and that one featured country deities Merle Haggard and Ray Price.
Boldly, Landes cold-called Foster to plead her case. So what made him say yes?
“Part of it was persistence on my end,” she says, but she finally won him over with her songwriting skills.
Together, they spent hours polishing the songs before she ever entered the studio; Foster then assembled a who’s who list of studio musicians, including Hall of Famer Charlie McCoy. Even Hall of Fame artist Bobby Bare dropped by to serve as a sly foil on a duet.
4. Landes now has a bona fide Loretta Lynn connection.
After moving to Nashville last year, Landes answered a Craigslist ad and ended up buying a blue pickup from Lynn’s music director, Bart Hansen. They have since become friends, and Hansen can be seen playing guitar, over Landes’ right shoulder, in the “Traveling” video. For that matter, the pickup is in the video, too, as well as a lyrical mention of “Loretta on the radio.”
At Hansen’s behest, Landes recently home-recorded a video greeting to Lynn, whom Hansen visits weekly while she recuperates from a stroke and a broken hip.
“She sent me one back,” Landes marvels. “Can you believe that? I have a video of Loretta saying hello to me and ‘I hope you have a good day.’ I love it so much.”
5. She met her husband at music camp.
Or, more formally, the prestigious Johnny Mercer Writers Colony, where both received grants in 2015 to work on full-length musicals.
Husband Creighton Irons is an accomplished musical composer — and an incredibly supportive spouse who can be seen on the keyboard in the “Traveling” video. He also plans to join Landes on stage for at least a portion of the U.S. and European tour she’ll be on through October to support the album.
Whether their 1-year-old daughter, Callan, will be with them or with her grandparents has yet to be determined, but she’s already well acquainted with Mom’s new album. Not only has she attended recent shows, but Landes was pregnant during all of the recording sessions.
“She was there the entire time, really,” she says. “I hope she likes it when she’s older. I hope she’s not like, ‘All those songs! No more!’”