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In San Francisco’s Mission District, there’s a Victorian house with a garden full of towering tobacco flowers and rose vines so thick they’re pulling down the fence. Every Sunday, for a great span of 2021, songwriter Sarah Rose Janko would join producer and engineer Alicia Vanden Heuvel (Aislers Set, Magic Trick) there, to play guitar, sing harmonies, and hum lines for other instruments, before retreating to Vanden Heuvel’s basement recording studio (Speakeasy Studios SF), to roll tape on her Otari half-inch 8-track.
This is how, week by week, Dawn Riding’s new record You’re Still Here, was chipped out of the ethereal and into an expansive album of meticulously crafted and deeply captivating songs. It’s an album steeped in intimacy and warmth, each song built with a level of restraint that leaves room for Jankos’s quietly fierce vocals and her powerful songwriting to sit front and center. Nothing is rushed and each song is presented almost as a vignette: some with so much stillness one can feel the relationships, some that build from the heart’s interior solitude into swells of emotional catharsis. Above all, the album drives and breathes with storytelling.
You’re Still Here marks Dawn Riding’s third full-length album, dropping this November as a co-release between The Long Road Society and Speakeasy Studios SF, two women-owned Bay Area record labels, a fitting arrangement considering that the album’s creation was deeply collaborative. The credits reveal a wealth of Bay Area musicians lending their talents, with multi-instrumentalist Vanden Heuvel acting as producer and musical arranger. In addition to long-time Dawn Riding drummer Jasmyn Wong’s familiar shuffle on “All The Time,” Keenah Silver Fassett brings a rockier edge to two of the heavier numbers on the record. Hall McCann, Dawn Riding’s long-time lead guitar player and backup vocalist pushes her harmonies to the apparitional on “Scales Fall From My Eyes” while her guitar lines on “The Difference” are dirty and raw, invoking CSNY’s “Ohio.” Vanden Heuvel steps away from the mixing desk to play bass, organ, and even drums (on “Nine Lives”). Jacob Aranda (Tarnation) plays pedal steel and violin on a number of songs, including a haunting steel track on “Scales Fall From My Eyes.” Anna Hillburg adds trumpet, and Jessie Leigh Smith, who often performs live with Dawn Riding, plays soulful harmonica, lending a comforting down-home vibe to the journey.