Album Review: Dana Carmel – Little Red Heart

Dana Carmel

photo by Alison Shopmeyer; photo courtesy of Dana Carmel

The Backstory

I first heard Dana Carmel perform live at Rockwood Music Hall in June 2019. I had an hour to kill in the late afternoon and had circled this gig as an event of interest before my trip to the City just in case. This was a case of checking out a new artist because of someone whose musical taste I trusted. Dana’s event had popped up on my Facebook timeline before my trip, and I noticed that Valerie Orth (who I’ve recently reviewed for the third time) had clicked “interested.” So, knowing one of the earth’s most talented artists was “interested” in Dana’s gig, I sampled some of Dana’s music online and made a note of her set time “just in case” it fit into my Sunday.

Still, even though I was enjoying live music, I wasn’t “on the clock” as a music journalist that day; this was a weekend trip to just hang out and enjoy the City. For example, just for kicks, I grabbed a beer at The Waylon on Waylon Jennings’ birthday. I hit up a couple diners for my #OmeletTour on Instagram. And, just before heading to Dana’s set, I stopped by the Rocketman exhibit at Dolby SOHO, where I got to “star” in this kickass trailer. So while watching Dana perform, I didn’t take notes. I didn’t review the show, though I did thoroughly enjoy it. And when Dana handed me a copy of Little Red Heart, I was so far behind on my review queue that I wasn’t planning to review it, either. However, the CD has lived in my car CD player ever since, occasionally shuffled out briefly for Martin Briley’s It Comes in Waves or Jack Russell’s Great White’s He Saw It Comin’, but I’ve primarily only listened to Dana’s CD in my car since mid-2019. Now, two years (and hundreds of spins in my car CD player) later, I just have to share this record and Dana’s talent with you.

Album Review of Dana Carmel: Little Red Heart

Little Red Heart is a collection 11 catchy, well-written songs, ranging from pop to almost jazzy. The instrumentation is light, with lots of open space in the songs. Dana’s voice is piercing, clear, and frequently precise, with attitude and flourishes where necessary. The interesting thing about Dana’s voice is that I think it would be perfectly suited to being a must-hear pop-jazz chanteuse, and she has some great songs on this disc that fit her very well. Some of the catchiest tracks on here are full-on pop songs that are fun to hear in the more stripped-down arrangements on Little Red Heart but that might be enormous hits in fully-produced form. (I guess what I’m saying is “Pop divas, I’ve got your songwriter right here!”)

Obviously, if Little Red Heart has been my car CD for most of the last two-plus years, even with the minimal amount of driving I’ve done during the pandemic, I love this disc. It has a fun vibe, with clever lyrics that are fun to sing along with. It’s an ideal chillin’-and-drivin’ jam.

Dana Carmel – Little Red Heart

photo by Alison Shopmeyer; image courtesy of Dana Carmel

The album opens strong with “Not the One,” a syncopated pop number that grabs you from the get-go. It’s followed by “Castle,” which features a crack in Dana’s voice and a near-whisper that makes it seem very intimate and personal, including lyrics like “I don’t want to hurt, I don’t ever want to feel the pain of knowing you don’t feel the same.” The song is a terrific journey describing the art of hiding one’s heart away.

The title track, “Little Red Heart,” is moody, jazzy groove that showcases some of the sharp, piercing edges of Dana’s voice, almost like an intriguing huntress on the vocal prowl. When I mentioned “jazz singer,” it’s songs like this I was referring to. As much fun as her pop songs are, tracks like this show an edge to her voice that’s distinct and unmatchable.

After “Goodbye,” which continues in a similar vocal vein to “Little Red Heart,” “The End of Us” follows with an off-balance, jazzy vibe, tying it to the previous two tracks, but it adds a growlin’ rock ‘n roll bass line and – in the verses, at least – a poutier rock edge to Dana’s vocals.

My favorite song, probably lyrically at least, is “Baby Boy.” Dig the lyrics “I-I-I-I am not your mama. Don’t get it twisted, it’s me, your lover.” It’s a fun outing of a narcissistic man-child. And there’s a cool bridge in the middle of the song where the music just screams tiki bar.

Dana Carmel

photo by Alison Shopmeyer; photo courtesy of Dana Carmel

Another favorite is a true jazzy lounge number, “Blue to Gold,” as if straight out of a scene in James Bond movie, with Dana expressing insightful turns of phrase like “maybe if I start to let it go, then all my blues would turn into gold.”

I know I’ve skipped several songs – on some days, “Talking to Myself,” “The Great Escape,” or one of the other songs is a personal favorite, too – but I’ve captured above the essence of this album and, hopefully, have convinced you to take a listen to this talented artist.

Lastly, I’ll reiterate, an album does not remain in my car CD player for more than two years if it isn’t really cool.

Looking Ahead

Dana’s Facebook page doesn’t have an “events” tab, nor does her website, so I’m not sure how you’ll find out when and where catch her performing live. (My best guess, of course, would be to follow her on Facebook.) Her website does, however, offer singing telegrams, songwriting courses, and the opportunity to have a song commissioned for a special occasion, among other things, so it’s well worth perusing.

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