When Dawn Landes told her family she wanted to leave Louisville to pursue musical interests in New York, she was greeted with perhaps understandable bewilderment.
"My parents thought I was crazy, because I had never been in New York before," she says. "Well, I went there once with my high school choir. But I just wanted to go there. I don't know why. Maybe I saw a movie or something. I thought New York was the place to go."
Since the relocation, Landes, 33, has released a string of critically lauded albums; toured with high-profile pals including Bryan Ferry, Ray Lamontagne and Andrew Bird; scored a few films, and sang at the New York City Ballet.
But for the summer, Landes has returned home. If anything though, her work schedule will be even crazier. Aside from numerous regional gigs, including a headline slot at Friday night's portion of the inaugural Well Crafted festival, she cut a new covers EP at Lexington's Shangri-La studio with producer Duane Lundy.
There is also the matter of the musical Landes is writing. The project is based on A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean, the autobiography of fellow Louisvillian Tori Murden McClure, the first woman to successfully row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
"I have never done anything like this before," Landes says of the project. "Usually when I'm inspired, I'll write a song about whatever. But I'm kind of treating this as a math problem. You have point A and you have to get to point B, and in there you have to say this, this and this. It's challenging, it's difficult, but I really like it.
"I'm working with a guy in New York, Danny Goldstein, who is writing the libretto. I'm writing all the music and lyrics. Our first reading is scheduled for Aug. 28 in New York, and that's going to have actors reading all the parts."
The musical continues an already fruitful year for Landes. In February, she released a lovely folk- and Americana-accented album, Bluebird, which was born out of less than sunny times.
"Well, this was a difficult record to make because it was kind of an emotional time for me," she says. "I had a relationship fall apart. That's never fun. I was kind of spinning in the universe and not really sure what I wanted to do artistically, either. I recorded a bunch of songs but realized I didn't like them. It wasn't the right direction, so I scrapped everything. That's always hard to do when you invested a lot of time and money into something to say, 'That's not what I want to do.'"
Enter friend Thomas Bartlett, who produced, played keyboards and helped guide the album to completion.
"I've never had a producer on an album of mine," Landes says. "I've always done that myself. So this was great. It allowed me to not be in full control the entire time. Most of the songs were recorded live, so I was busy playing guitar and singing, and not worrying so much about stuff."
It's also a testament to Landes' now-settled place in the expansive New York music scene that among those who contributed to Bluebird is Norah Jones.
"That was really wonderful. I had known her for a little while just socially, and I knew she liked my music," Landes says. "So she came down and played piano on a track and ended up singing on a few songs. It was so amazing watching her respond to the music."
Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.