Album Review: Lady Dan – I Am The Prophet

[Earth Libraries; 2021]

They say you have your whole life to draw on when it comes to making your debut album, but Tyler Dozier aka Lady Dan has probably had enough life experience to fill up a few. Born into a Christian family in Alabama, she found herself drawn to alternative types of art and music, but was dissuaded from them and towards the church. She even enrolled in ministry school, moving with her then-boyfriend to Birmingham to start her life – but not for long. With the relationship turning toxic, her father passing away from cancer, and her distance from the teachings of Christianity growing, Dozier soon broke away to Austin, Texas, where she healed herself through music.

The result is I Am The Prophet, a gorgeously forward-thinking set of indie-Americana in which Dozier is not afraid to dish the dirt: whether a song finds her broken, angry, accepting or confident, she is a candid and gracious host. Backed by an impressive band who, on top of the standard bass, guitar and drums, fill out her songs with additional pedal steel, violins, cello, brass and keys, Dozier paints grand musical vistas of landscape and emotion that each have their own unique kick.

Given her extraordinary background, it’s no surprise that Dozier is capable of vacillating between extremities of confidence and dejection, and is able to place her personality into every line, whether she’s opening up or cutting away. Her ability to bait and switch from a moment of vulnerability to a cool kiss-off is perfectly captured in the opening lines of the album: “called me underrated, said you could look at me forever / I believed in you, somehow”; one second drawing an intimate scene, the next dismissing it with the insouciance of someone like Laura Marling.

This sharp tongue is also on display in many album highlights, and she’s got a brilliant way of using the lexicon of the church to add heft to her jabs. The rambunctious folk-rocker-turned-twanging-shoegaze song “Dogs” finds her challenging her ex; “Are the dogs now smarter than me? / Are you just returning to your sloppy seconds? / I’ll bear witness.” On “Better Off Alone” she’s ostracised from family and community, but not too bothered about it, smirking “I’ve been spending my time at home by myself / It’s not as sad as it may sound” over delightful lilting and trumpet-imbued folk. On the tinkling stormer “Misandrist to Most” she is at her most extravagantly extroverted, determining “I’ll be my own best man” with sunbeam harmonies that make you want to pump your fist in celebration. The title track presents a grandiose throne of interwoven strings that add dramatic life to her devilish account of dating disappointment, making her proclamation “I am the prophet, turning water into wine” into a moment of powerful rebirth.

I Am The Prophet also has several downcast moments, but always with a complexity that shows us Dozier’s inherent resilience. She feels isolated on the forlorn country song “Plagiarist’s Blues”, but the voice of the lap steel and the promise of singing from the classic songbook eventually stir her from her gloom. She finishes the album with the twinkling and whimsical “Left-Handed Lover”, in which she’s crying in the arms of someone special and looking into the future with equal parts fear and hope, her voice spreading wide with wondrous possibility as she steals a line from the Steve Miller Band: “Time keeps on slipping into the future.”

Standing at the centre of I Am The Prophet is the elegiac “No Home”, Dozier’s direct and stately reckoning with all she’s left behind. She begins in the gutter, pissed off and questioning “who were you to leave me?” and, over plaintive guitar strums and weeping violin, she follows that fury into a thicket of memories of emotional abuse, reaching a crushing nadir as she admits “My kingdom fell apart / And you just watched it fall.” However, she then rises from these ashes, undeniably stronger and prouder, and when the song hits its apex, everything cuts out as she yelps “I’m no longer a slave to your patriarchal sins” and the effect is like a thunderclap. For all the wonderfully brisk and characterful words sung on the record, this is the moment where we see Dozier at her clearest.

The video for “No Home” is equally stunning and informative. In it, we find Dozier standing in a plain white room, gradually being stripped down until she’s naked – then reclothed again by women who represent the female friendships that rebuilt her in her time of need. It’s a stark and unforgettable portrayal of her journey, and of the emotional unburdening that she does throughout I Am The Prophet. It’s rare for an artist to be so bold and blatantly fighting their fears on a debut album, but Lady Dan’s bravery is what gives extra life and depth to her songs – let’s hope this is just the beginning.