Vulnerability, fragility and innocence are the first impressions you get from singer/song writer Annie Dressner’s debut CD, Strangers Who Knew Each Other’s Names. They are impressions embedded in the youthful sound of her voice. They are impressions evoked by the plaintive sweetness of her melodies. And as often as not they jump out from the passionate, conversational awkwardness of much of her lyrics. There are eleven songs on the album, and but for one or two they all have the feel of very personal expressions.
There are those artists who create voices not explicitly their own to speak for them, personae; there are those artists who speak sincerely in their own voices. Then there are those that manage to give the semblance of sincerity whether it’s genuine or not. I don’t know for sure into which of these categories Dressner fits, but if it’s not the second then she’s done a hell of a job convincing this listener.
“Fly,” the album’s opening song, is an upbeat expression of the need to spread your wings and fly in spite of the fear of falling. Of course, implicit in the metaphor of flying and falling is, of course, falling in love; you need to make the effort in spite of any danger of failing. “Find Me” is another upbeat proclamation, this one on the need to “climb that mountaintop” and commit to life and love. Songs like “Cigarette,” “When I See Stars,” and the haunting “Come Back” are mournful looks at lost love perfectly suited to Dressner’s vulnerable mask. In a note on “How Am I Supposed to Be?” Dressner describes the song’s personal nature and how she uses her music to deal with her emotions, in this case a “very personal loss.” “I’ll look for you in me;” is her lyrical attempt to “try to find a closeness to someone” she’s lost.
Perhaps the one exception to the personal, subjective character of her songs is “Hardy Boys,” which Dressner points out is not about the young-adult book series, but about a friend’s band with the same name. She explains that she met the members of the band and was invited to join them on a Canadian tour, but she thought better of it and declined. Although even here the song seems to stem from a personal experience, the difference is in the emotional stakes.
The album’s title song is, she says, “a love song of sorts.” It deals with what she feels is a universal experience of meeting someone face-to-face for the first time and feeling an instant kinship, feeling as though you’ve known each other for ages. Again, the impetus for the song is personal experience. She was friends with someone on Facebook whom she had met in the past but really didn’t know very well, and then when they ran into each other they were indeed strangers who knew each other’s names.
Joining Dressner on the CD is Anthony Rizzo (electric and acoustic guitar), Dan Kendall (bass), Paul Goodwin (keys and mandolin), Kevin Hudson (drums), and Chris Fisher-Lochhead (viola). Steph Allen and Theresa Hoffmann contribute backing vocals on a couple of tracks, but Dressner does her own backing on most of the songs.
Strangers Who Knew Each Other’s Names is an auspicious debut for a promising artist. It is a collection of songs that shine with honest emotion and haunting melodies.