Dawn Richard – “Armor On”

4 stars (out of 5)

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Product DetailsDawn Richard is someone who I’m familiar with only because she appeared on the under-rated 2011 P Diddy (is he still calling himself that? who can keep up) album “Last Train To Paris” as part of the female duo that accompanied him called Dirty Money. They have since split up with the two members, Dawn Richard and Kalenna Harper, now going it alone as solo artists. Richard was also a member of the successful American manufactured girl group Danity Kane who disbanded in 2009, again put together by P Diddy. If that’s put you off then please don’t let it, you’ll be missing out on something very special.

This album is being marketed as an EP but it’s almost 40 minutes long with 10 tracks (including an intro and outro) and is longer than many traditional albums, not that length is any indication of quality (ahem). Richard has also stated that it’s the precursor for her first album proper “Golden Heart”, out later this year, which will be the first of three conceptually linked albums. This may sound a little cumbersome and ambitious for a first time solo artist but judging by the talent shown here, maybe not.

Black Lipstick” is apparently a metaphor for the music industry, ‘she smelled of temptation and made me impatient’ and is a moody, softly drum and bass skittering groove which quickly establishes the tone for the rest of the album. Strangled tribal yelps at the end of the track bleed into the first single’s introduction, the appropriately militaristic “Bombs” which is one of the more straight forward and commercial dance tracks here but the steeliness of Richard’s vocal and the subtle but dramatic string motifs insure that it’s anything but generic.

The looped sirens of “Automatic” with a scolding Stepford wife-charged Dawn pushing her inconsiderate lover aside morphs into the fractured piano notes of the sonically diverse and exhilarating trilogy  of “Change”, “Heaven” andFaith. Samba, Italian house, world music, soul and disco are influences that shade and propel these tracks using some of the most creative, cutting edge production that I’ve heard in a while in respect to the RnB genre. The two slower, closing tracks are probably the most fully realised and powerful songs here and are both magical. The cinematic, coolly restrained “Scripture” and the stark, hip hop-influenced “Save Me from U” (reminiscent of Kanye West at his most melancholic) are an exercise in quality control and subtle detail.

Although Richard may not possess a full throttle soul voice such as Mary J Blige (she actually sounds very like Brandy), her vulnerability and impressive falsetto work beautifully with the material; exactly as it should be. So, welcome Dawn Richard, a modern R‘n’B superstar in the making.

Highly recommended.