Dawn Richard Album Reviews

Dawn Richard was born in New Orleans, of Louisiana Creole and Haitian descent. Her family moved to Baltimore when they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Her father was the percussionist for Chocolate Milk – a funk and soul band that played with Paul McCartney and Allan Touissant. Her mother ran a dance school.

Richard recorded a solo album, Been A While, in 2005, before successfully auditioning for Sean “Diddy” Combs’ girl group Danity Kane. The group was named after a manga character Richard drew during rehearsal. Formed from the MTV reality series Making the Band, the group released two number-one albums and two top-ten singles. After the initial breakup of Danity Kane, Richard formed Diddy–Dirty Money with Combs and vocalist Kalenna Harper.

After a single album with Diddy–Dirty Money, Richard returned to her solo career with a trilogy of albums. The first instalment, Goldenheart, arrived in 2013, followed by Blackheart and Redemption (initially titled Redemptionheart).

Despite her commercial success with Danity Kane and Diddy–Dirty Money, Richard’s solo career has largely flown under the radar. But she deserves recognition for her ability to blend arty impulses with accessibility in her alternative R&B. She’s ambitious and fascinating, creating cerebral concept albums like Janelle Monae and Jamila Woods. She also owns a vegan food truck in New Orleans.

Dawn Richard Album Reviews

Goldenheart

2013, 8.5/10
After years with Danity Kane and Diddy–Dirty Money, Goldenheart feels like Richard’s proper debut album. She’d previously released an independent solo album in 2005 while working as a cheerleader for the New Orleans Hornets. Her main collaborator here is producer and manager Andrew “Druski” Scott.

There’s a clear debt to 1980s pop on Goldenheart, with Dawn Richard playing homage to Phil Collins (‘Intro (In The Hearts Tonight)’) and Peter Gabriel (‘In Your Eyes’). Clearly a fan of Genesis (she told The Quietus that “The sound of Genesis was such a clever sound”), she delves into sci-fi and high fantasy in the lyrics of Goldenheart.

Despite the grandiose themes, Goldenheart is often mellow and insular, particularly on its gentler second half. The energetic, dance-oriented songs like ‘Riot’ and ‘Gleaux’ are strong. But it’s the long, moody pieces like ‘Warfaire’ and ‘Break of Dawn’. Scott’s classical influence shines through on the title track, with a melody based on Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’. The most accessible piece is the pretty 1980s pop of ’86’.

Goldenheart is a strong debut from Richard, letting her take the artistic spotlight after years of serving in groups.


Blackheart

Goldenheart put you on a battlefield in medieval times. Blackheart will put you in a place where you’re stuck in a rainforest by yourself, and you realize that you have all this armor, but you have this blood on you as well.

Dawn Richard

Redemption


New Breed

2019, 7.5/10
Following the conclusion of her ambitious trilogy, Richard delivered a concise R&B album with New Breed. It forgoes big concepts, instead it’s an assertive album about sex and empowerment. It’s more personal than before, including spoken word tracks that reflect her Washitaw nation heritage. On the album cover, she’s wearing the traditional headdress of the Washitaw Nation’s male leader.

She’s more earthy and direct than before, and it works well on tracks like ‘dreams and converse’. It’s almost shocking to hear her get more sexually explicit on tracks like ‘Sauce’. But the lengthy, atmospheric ‘Vultures, Wolves’ would fit musically onto Goldenheart, and the warm harmonies of ‘We, Diamonds’ are lovely.

Richard constraining her arty impulses for a sexy R&B album works, but it’s one of her less substantial records.


Second Line

2021, 8.5/10
The title of Richard’s fifth album references a New Orleans tradition, where parade watchers dance along in a second line. The album is interspersed with interviews with Richard’s mother, recalling her Louisiana heritage.

Second Line isn’t an especially coherent album. Richard’s an imaginative artist who delivers everything from pop bangers like ‘Boomerang’ and ‘Jacuzzi’ to atmospheric and arty material like ‘The Potter’ and ‘Perfect Storm’ – always my ideal of an enjoyable artist.

Richard’s possibly too full of ideas for commercial megastardom, but she’s making consistently strong records.


Dawn Richard and Spencer Zahn

Pigments

2022, 8.5/10
On her sixth album, Richard heads for more esoteric territory, working with Spencer Zahn – the pair were introduced by Kimbra. Zahn’s soundscapes are atmospheric, recalling Brian Eno or Miles Davis’ landmark 1969 album In A Silent Way. The arrangements are rich, augmented by organic instruments like saxophone, cello, and clarinet. Richard’s treated vocals swoop effortlessly around – the ambient backing highlights her excellent vocals.

I think the difference here is the choice to move into a more atmospheric place, and the only reason why I wanted to do that is I’ve had huge influences in my early days of listening to records like Pure Moods and Enya. Growing up, that was another part of my world––my father has a master’s in Music Theory––so growing up listening to Debussy and Bach and watching his process in music was a heavy influence on me as well.

Dawn Richard, https://editionml.com/dawn-richard-spencer-zahn-pigments-album-interview

It’s tough to pick individual highlights from Pigments since it’s one long song broken into sections. Additionally, it’s difficult to differentiate between the tracks when they’re all named for single-word natural objects like ‘Sienna’ and ‘Cobalt’. Despite the double billing, Richard’s vocals are absent from some tracks. The opening ‘Coral’ has a lovely instrumental motif that evokes Brian Eno’s Discreet Music; it serves as a prelude for the pretty ‘Sandstone’. ‘Saffron’ is mostly a saxophone instrumental, with Richards’ vocals only appearing at the climactic point.

Dawn Richard is undervalued, and Pigments is another fine addition to an increasingly impressive catalogue.

10 Best Dawn Richard Songs

Bussifame
The Potter
86
Vultures, Wolves

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