Dead Gowns is the project of Portland-Maine singer-songwriter Geneviève Beaudoin. Her latest collection, the HOW EP, is a confident declaration of self-acceptance. First penned during the recording sessions of a separate Dead Gowns full length in January 2021, these four songs — urgent, necessary and assuming a life of their own — rose to the surface. When a recording opportunity emerged, thanks to a grant offered by Portland, ME studio Prism Analog, the new collection became a reality. The ensuing record boasts a cast of good friends/collaborators, including Luke Kalloch, Peter McLaughlin, Nat Baldwin, Alex Millan, Aisha Burns, and Brett DesChenes. It is a decisive statement from a band comfortably growing to meet its potential.
Ideas of shedding, and the power and tenderness required to do so, are evoked again and again over the course of this collection. ‘Renter Not a Buyer’ is the cheekiest of the tracks, but also the most indelible. The chorus is a veritable earworm, as catchy as it is damning. It’s a multi-faceted exploration of the shells we inhabit, the work involved in preserving them, and how they so often fail us. The narrator, hungover and late to work, tumbles down the stairs from an apartment too drafty to be habitable. Bleeding from the mouth, she tries to kiss her date goodbye, avoiding a larger reality in her body. Beaudoin’s own experiences with endometriosis inform this exploration: she sets concealed pain in direct opposition to the demands of saving face. This process is invariably fraught with contradictions and she is the first to recognize the absurdity of trying at all.
The rest of the EP is less fixated on the pitfalls of how one presents to the world. Though Beaudoin first wrote these songs as unspoken dialogues, she sees them now as affirmations intended for herself. ‘How You Act’ is a reclamation of agency, empowering the narrator to forgive and accept: “Yeah it’s messy, grow up your heart” elucidates this revelation, with Beaudoin’s voice ringing out unaccompanied for a brief moment of quiet triumph.” ‘Change Your Mind’ is a moving celebration of this new life, emerging with gusto from the past. Set atop swelling strings and the warm swagger of a Fender Rhodes, this affirmation feels earned and regal. But it’s the final track, ‘Real Life,’ – a later addition to the EP – that reminds Beaudoin that there’s no fixed point here. She must make peace with the fact that her desire for change will always run alongside a past that won’t entirely stay past.
Throughout the four songs that make up the HOW EP, Beaudoin deftly traces the molting process from the darkly comic wriggling of the larval state to the transcendence of uncalloused being.
On Eliza Edens’ sophomore album We’ll Become the Flowers, she seeks to understand what happens after the end. Whether grappling with heartache or a loved one’s mortality, the Brooklyn-based songwriter reimagines endings not as finite events but as devotional experiences that give way to new beginnings. Edens takes inspiration from folk luminaries such as Nick Drake, Karen Dalton and Elizabeth Cotten, sowing her compositions with introspection born from her own grief. What emerges is a glowing collection of songs that serve as a map through tumult, toward hope.
Edens sings and writes with an equally tender reverie as in her 2020 debut album Time Away From Time. But where We’ll Become the Flowers diverges, is in its narrative vulnerability. Each song is bursting: with sorrow, with anger, with the miracle of existence. “I wrote this album out of emotional necessity,” Edens says. “I had just gone through a breakup. And around the same time, my mother was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease. I was spending a lot of my time trying to understand what it means to watch the hopeful person who raised me seem to slowly fade away before my eyes.” As the pandemic loomed, Edens turned to music: “This project was a rope I used to pull myself out of misery, to view the despair I was feeling from a different angle. It was also my escape.”
After a successful crowdfunding campaign, Edens recorded We’ll Become the Flowers during a two-week session in July 2021 in a Minneapolis attic. She worked with her trusted friends and collaborators – co-producer and bassist Pat Keen, audio engineer and guitarist Dexter Wolfe, and drummer Shane Leonard. Going into each session, they envisioned an atmosphere of experimentation which led them to reconceptualize many of Edens’ songs. “I Needed You,” for example, changed from “a glum breakup waltz” into “a song that’s feeling good about feeling bad,” Edens says, recalling Leonard’s words after he suggested changing the time signature.
In We’ll Become the Flowers, Edens’ voice rings out sweet yet sorrowful; playful yet certain; hers is a voice capable of embodying emotion in all its complexity. When Edens asks, in the record’s opener, “How do I get there?” she stretches out the last word as if to emphasize its infinite possibilities. Yet Edens never remains in the abstract; instead, she takes us along on her emotional journey, speaking honestly, intimately, and specifically about her process: “I tried to start by weeding through the trauma in my bones,” she sings in the next verse of “How.” “To rearrange the memories / Forgive and not keep score.” In “Tom and Jerry,” Edens’ songwriting becomes more whimsical. “Oh it’s getting so hard to choose / And I’m chewing on all the alternate routes,” Edens sings, using a playful rhyme with alliterative echo.
In “I Needed You,” Edens uses the repetition of her hook to convey how her feelings toward her former lover have shifted over time. The first time she sings, “I needed you,” her voice is steeped in nostalgia, romanticizing the lover’s “flannel shirt and calming words.” But the final time Edens sings, “I needed you,” her tone has shifted: she’s harsher, irreverent even – and as if in response to remembering how much she thought she needed them, she breaks into laughter. But Edens’ conviction as a songwriter comes across most clearly in “For the Song.” “And when the rage comes around,” she sings, “And every critic’s tearing up her ground / The truth becomes power.” In this last phrase, her voice is as direct and unwavering as her words.
Creating We’ll Become the Flowers started as a way for Edens to plant her grief. What took root, however, is a series of offerings. These come in the form of scenes that are both familiar yet deeply personal to Edens: singing loudly on the highway, wandering a graveyard, dancing in the wilderness, watching her mother plant flowers, wishing to create her own shine, reminding herself that the only seed worth planting is hope. Through Edens’ words, we glimpse the possibility of change, of forgiveness, of acceptance and, in numinous spurts, joy. If we see Edens’ album as a conversation—between Edens and herself and between Edens and the listener—then the conversation opens with a question that she poses in the first song, “But how do I get there?” In the album’s denouement, “Julia,” Edens returns to this question, changed, and with a final offering: “The pen is in your hand,” she reminds us. “And the key is in your certainty.”
Isa Burke is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and producer based in Portland, Maine. Using electric and acoustic guitars, fiddle, banjo, voice, and sometimes other instruments, she creates music that draws from traditional folk, modern indie-rock, and beyond.
Raised in a musical family in Maine, Isa came up through the Northeast’s thriving folk music community. She studied at Berklee College of Music, where she was awarded the 2014 Fletcher Bright Scholarship, given annually to an outstanding fiddler, and studied with Darol Anger, Bruce Molsky, and Bonnie Hayes. Meanwhile, she began paying her dues and building her performance chops playing tons of shows in tiny basement clubs throughout Boston and Cambridge.
She spent the first years of her music career as one-third of the band Lula Wiles, which released 3 albums and an EP on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and toured internationally, appearing at Newport Folk Festival and winning acclaim from NPR Music, Rolling Stone, WNYC, and Paste Magazine. Their third album, Shame and Sedition, prominently features Isa’s sonic sensibilities and electric guitar work.
Since fall 2021, Isa has been touring internationally as a member of Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan’s Age of Apathy Band, including appearances at the Kennedy Center, NPR’s Tiny Desk, Jimmy Kimmel Live, CBS Saturday Morning, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
Isa is a versatile and in-demand collaborator. Whether singing, playing electric guitar in a rock band, playing traditional fiddle tunes, or some combination of the above, she brings a voracious musical appetite and a diverse sonic palette to a vast array of projects. As a side musician, she has toured and recorded with artists from across the folk/roots/Americana spectrum (Jake Blount, Mipso, Rosier, Kris Delmhorst, Sam Moss, Stash Wyslouch, Carolyn Kendrick, Session Americana). In large part due to her work with Aoife O’Donovan, Isa is currently a nominee for Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2023 Americana Music Awards. Isa also served as producer for Nashville singer-songwriter Liv Greene’s debut record Every Bright Penny and has additional production projects forthcoming in 2023. A bandmate at heart, she enjoys nothing more than the interlocking of harmony vocals, of guitar and drums, of banjo and fiddle. Isa is also an experienced educator, teaching classes and workshops in various instruments, ensemble playing, music theory, and songwriting.
Also, there will be an Isa Burke solo project soon.