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"Produced by Dave Simonett of Trampled By Turtles and working with some of the best musicians around (including guitarist Erik Koskinen, bassist Frankie Lee and drummer JT Bates) her album captures her career in microcosm. It showcases her gorgeous voice and considerable skills as a songwriter which, combined with her tireless work ethic, reveal a musician who can easily borrow from different genres to create a unique sound all her own.
You like Gypsy jazz with a touch of western swing? Check out the album opener “Autumn Sky.” Heartfelt romantic folk? That’s the tenderly sentimental ballad “Fire Burned Bright.” Theatrical strings wrapped around an enigmatically haunting melody? Then check out the title track. Her grace in moving around the musical landscape is effortless. Where one would expect some jarring juxtaposition of sound, Dean gives us seamless layers. She combines seemingly incongruous elements to create light and hypnotic beauty. Of course the bouncing guitar of “Conversation” is embraced by those lush harmonies. That dissident violin ties it all together. Why wouldn’t that work?
The common thread throughout The Natural Minor is Dean’s voice. Powerful at times and subtle at others, she may possess the most adaptable set of vocal chords in the Upper Midwest. But she doesn’t simply rely on natural ability. Sometimes it’s in her phrasing or expression. It’s the heavy bounce she puts into “What A Surprise,” or the audible smile heard in “Conversation” when she sings “whether you’re the good girl/or if you are the mistress/sometimes an open heart can be swallowed in secret.” From song to song, her voice, along with her instincts, prove to be infallible.
As a songwriter, Dean is not just a fascinating lyricist, but is also one who understands how a simple chord change here, or a conga beat there can convey an idea just as easily as a well-written couplet. The lyrics on “The Natural Minor” would read as disjointed thoughts were they not accompanied by Koskinen’s echo laden guitar tone. “This vulnerability/tends to sneak up on me/with admirable accuracy,” she sings, followed by deep silence before adding “the piercing quality.” The tension created finally bursts into a controlled tantrum of guitars, organ and strings before she finally wrestles back her restraint. All of that, just because she’s not sure she wants to fall in love.
To be sure, the presence of a producer like Simonett and some of the better Twin Cities musical minds is a great boon to this album, but it’s clear throughout that Molly Dean is in charge. She has summoned the momentum that she has worked up with her myriad projects to produce a beautiful album, well layered and carefully pieced together. Simply put, The Natural Minor is a snapshot of an artist at the top of her game.