Dawn Richard’s storied path in the mainstream maw of popular music is an epic tale itself.
The New Orleans native went from indie-R&B procurement to big-time stardom when she landed on Sean Combs’ “Making the Band” in 2005; a popular MTV reality-music-making-show.
There, she became one-fifth of Danity Kane, the girl-group fruits of ‘Making the Band.’ Two records, Danity Kane (2006) and Welcome to the Dollhouse (2008), met platinum and gold success before the unit imploded under strain from a variety of outlets.
Afterwards, Richard was absorbed into Combs’ Diddy-Dirty Money collective. Finally ready to stop tap dancing to the predictable two-step of Bad Boy Records, Richard made a timely exodus from the label in 2011. The album birthed from her transition, and preceded by the ambitious digital EP Armor On (2012), was Goldenheart (2013).
Released on 1/15/13 the album, supposedly the first in a trilogy of records due this year, is a larger-than-life fairy tale recasting of modern rhythm and blues. In Richard’s hands, she is the primary songwriter along with co-producer Andrew “Druski” Scott. The woes and highs of love are given a medieval makeover, the album’s scope brings to mind Donna Summer’s rewrite of Cinderella on her Once Upon a Time (1977) LP. Richard’s vocal persona shows she’s studied at the altar of Brandy Norwood, her voice multi-harmonied and nebulous on “Intro (In the Hearts Tonight)” and “.”
However, Richard’s voice isn’t as mahogany-spiced as Brandy’s. Instead, Richard’s chilly sensibility cuts to the center of tracks like the European-Black fever of “Gleaux” and the adventurous, dim clubber “Northern Lights.”
“Northern Lights” held an enunciated chant of “Let me take you to the northern lights,” is a hypnotic call-to-arms to visit that faraway place, likely a discothèque, on the horizon. Richard’s ability to make the mundane extraordinary is uncanny, as heard on the sublime and stark title cut. The piano keys and Richard are all that adorn the track; the piano’s pristine presence recalls the crisp heights of George Gershwin’s jazz opus “Rhapsody in Blue.” In truth, the sample is pulled from Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune.”
For lazy listeners, Goldenheart may seem a trifle boring in the sense that the atmosphere is valued above immediate gratification. Further, there is a distance kept between Richard and the listener when it comes to her delivery at times; it’s like the story songs are being revisited versus lived.
Such a Sade-esque disconnect vocally, barring the titular track and several other nuggets (“Goliath”), may also give some the cold shoulder. Standard R&B formula is not necessarily the mission here, but patience (and an open-mind) will reward as Goldenheart grows addictive with each return.
Directed By: Eugene Lee Yang
Preference will determine the affinity factor for most, but the sheer genius of Goldenheart is undeniable. Like many of the young black women of the last several years in pop (V.V. Brown), hip-hop (Azaelia Banks), and R&B (Janelle Monáe, Solange), Richard is making herself known in the new alternative fields of those just-mentioned genres. From a former Bad Boy Records kewpie doll, being a revolution starter is nothing short of amazing. Ranking: Semi-Classic
[Editor’s Note: Goldenheart is available digitally and physically in retailers. The Armor On EP is available at most digital retailers. For current information on Dawn Richard, visit her official site.-QH]