Review: “Black Butterfly” by Dana Dawson (CD, 1996)

Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown is the 1996 edition of the second album Black Butterfly by the late American actress and singer, Dana Dawson. Is this an album that you should welcome into your Family, or should it flutter off? Read on…

Dana Dawson - Black Butterfly (1995) album cover
Dana Dawson – Black Butterfly (1995) album

The album opens with Interlude – Black Butterfly as a breathy Dana encourages us to fly.

Next up is the unmistakeable and wonderful pianos and bass of lead single 3 Is Family which gave her a huge #9 hit in the UK. This track was the first time I’d ever heard of Dana, and that’s no doubt due to this being an incredibly upbeat and catchy song. The music bounces along courtesy of that wonderful bass line, and Dana’s vocals flow effortlessly along. The song is utterly flawless.

That’s followed by Got To Give Me Love, which reminds you instantly of how the album was released during the reign of Eternal in the UK charts, and could easily have been on one of their albums, but thankfully it wasn’t. Again, the song is a cheerful upbeat song, and Dana gets to show off her fantastic pop vocal range. This song was the album’s second UK single, and gave her a moderate #27 hit.

Show Me follows this, and we’re treated to a shuffling beat and acoustic guitar, as warm synths flood the song. Dana’s voice here is rich and delicate, and gives this song a real tender feeling. I’m reminded a little bit of Michelle Gayle, but it still undeniably Dana. The track gave Dana her 3rd UK top 30 hit, reaching #28.

That’s followed by Dignified. The tempo drops down, giving Dana the perfect platform from which to show off her rich warm vocals. Along with the backing vocalists, the song builds steadily and gives Dana plenty of opportunity to show some of her broad vocal range and harmonies. It really is a lovely song, and could have fared well as a single.

Acoustic guitars return with a breathy Dana, for Interlude – Visions, it’s short and sweet.

You Are My Baby follows this, with some wonderful sounding beats and bass, and a great example of mid-90s UK chart sounds. She’s joined by electric piano and warm backing vocals. Musically, this song would fit perfectly on Madonna‘s Bedtime Stories album, except I’m glad that it’s here, as it really is a lovely track, although the song’s title does get sung as pretty much every other line.

That’s followed by So Good Together, again reminding me of Eternal. The soft beat, the vocals harmonies, the fantastic vocals from Dana, and the catchy chorus just makes it yet another song that could have easily hit the singles chart.

Fourth and final single How I Wanna Be Loved is next, and this song is probably the closest sounding to her 3 Is Family hit. Despite this, it stalled in the UK charts, reaching only #42 in the summer of 1996, and was included on this 1996 edition for the UK market. Aside from this, it really is another catchy song, and is musically and vocally absolutely flawless. It’s a crime that it didn’t replicate her debut UK chart hit’s success.

All Of These Things follows this, and acts as a contrasting ballad. A simple electric piano sits underneath Dana’s warm vocals. Gradually she’s joined by a bass and a simple shaker, and then the full track arrives. Dana’s vocals are the main attraction here, and she really does sound wonderful.

Staying in the mid-tempo range is Nothing In This World, and we’re treated to a wave of warmth through the swell of synth strings, punctuated between guitars and light percussion. Again, Dana’s vocals are flawless and rich, getting plenty of time to show it’s power and range off, particularly in the mid section before the guitar solo.

A phone dials, as a piano gently tinkles away in the background of next track Interlude – Love Me. Dana asks ‘do you love me? do you love me not?’ as the track comes to a close.

Next track Baby Do Right By Me, which bursts in. This track has a wonderful beat that really sets the track off in the right direction from the start. There’s a few little sample sounds thrown in, as the synths lead us through the song. Dana’s vocals sit effortlessly on top. The result, is a catchy foot tapping song that could probably have done well as a single.

Stop Yourself follows this, and Dana’s vocals sound harder here – more dance orientated, leaning a little towards those of Dannii Minogue. That aside, the song is a bright and catchy track, with a good strong beat throughout, and a brooding set of synth strings acting as a subtle undercurrent for the track. The focus here are the beats and the vocals.

The tempo comes down again for Intentions, with Dana’s vocals taking centre stage again, over a simple RnB beat, bass, and piano. I’m reminded of Janet Jackson‘s Janet album from 1993. It’s a nice track, but lacks the catchiness of earlier songs, but does give Dana a writing credit.

Next is Touch Me, which is a mid-tempo ballad, giving Dana and her backing singers to really show off some more tender vocals and wonderful harmonies, at the hands of seasoned ballad songwriter and producer Narada Michael Walden (who unsurprisingly had worked with Michelle Gayle the previous year). The result is a nice song, that gets Dana to hit some notes she hasn’t had before now, but it’s a pretty standard American ballad.

Interlude – Proverbs is next with a nice sampled beat, and some slide guitar. Dana tells us that ‘we must find happiness from within’.

The tempo picks back up for Sad Sad Songs, which has some uncredited harmonica. The track gives Dana one of her writing credits outside of the spoken-word interludes, and cleverly sings about how there’s ‘just too many sad sad songs’ in a really cheerful way. Dana’s vocals sit her perfectly, and the track bounce along perfectly.

Interlude – Home is next, and it is a 16 second orgy of percussion.

That leads into Salvation, which starts off with some beautiful male vocal harmonies alongside Dana, and it slowly fades out, as if an additional interlude, before returning with a slow ballad. The electric piano and synths give Dana enough space to show off this song and her vocals. She’s joined on writing duties by songwriter Simon Climie (of Climie Fisher). The song builds perfectly over its 5m 54s (the longest track here), with the backing vocalists returning to full force by the halfway point. This song is all on Dana’s vocals though – and she performs it perfectly – almost sounding heavenly by its gospel ending, which leads perfectly towards the next song.

The album closes with shortest track Interlude – Angel, a mere 14 seconds, of a child giggling repeatedly.

Dana Dawson’s lead single ‘3 Is Family’.

Verdict

Over all, this album is a joy to listen to, and it stands as a wonderful example of mid-90’s music – there’s pop, RnB, and ballad, courtesy of Narada Michael Walden and Ric Wake collaborations. It is consistent with it’s quality songwriting, music, and Dana’s wonderful vocal performance.

It is a long album, with 21 tracks, and that may have been a detractor for those brought into her world by the 3 Is Family hit, although there are six short interludes amongst these, akin to the type of track listing you’d expect from Janet Jackson.

Throughout, I’m left thinking of Eternal, Michelle Gayle, Janet Jackson, and slightly of Dannii Minogue, all of whom were inhabiting the UK singles charts at the same time, and whilst this may have afforded Dana entry into the UK charts, I think that it also ensured she didn’t stick around. Competition would have been fierce, and sadly Dana’s string of singles didn’t bring her the consistent success she deserved.

Definitely put this album in your ears if you’re a fan of those, it really is worth it.

Rated 4 stars - You're missing a treat!
  • POP RESCUE RATING: 4 / 5
  • 1996 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Didn’t chart in the UK.
  • POP RESCUE COST: £1.99 from a Discogs.com seller.

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