Grief… As humans, grief is something we all experience at some point within our lives. Now more than ever, within these last couple of years, grief has amplified and intensified in so many ways that none of us ever imagined. With so much pain, hurt, and loss, there are moments when life literally feels like a tumultuous boulder wrapped around your feet dragging you down into a sea of despair.
However, even through pain, whether past, current or even what we may experience in the future, healing follows.
For 26 year-old, West Memphis native, Abigail Elizabeth Smith, better known as Yebba, she allows her grief to generate beauty, healing, and peace. With her debut album, Dawn, the Arkansas singer-songwriter allows her pen and music to piece herself back together following the loss of her mother to suicide in 2016. While for some, a loss of this magnitude could absolutely take them out, Yebba took time away from her budding career to find her strength and identity following this traumatic experience and truly birthed a project that allowed her to freely exist and express every emotion necessary to push past her deep pain.
Paying homage to her late mother, Dawn, produced by Mark Ronson, & named after her mother, is emotive, fluid, and utterly dynamic. Released Friday (Sept. 10), the album consists of only 12 songs while running for for approximately 40 minutes. The debut effort only holds two features from Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye himself, A$AP Rocky, and Missouri’s own, Smino.
The album’s opener, “How Many Years” begins the journey through grief as Yebba boldly lays her emotions on the glass table for everyone to see, hear, and feel. Freely singing about moving on past her mother’s death she asks, “How many years will it take for these tears to dry?/ Oh, my Lord please don’t pass me by/ Where can I run when my running is out of time?” She already begins to give a vivid look into the deep pain she feels. Her breathy voice is almost ghostlike over this entrancing yet eerie production.
During her NPR Tiny Desk Set, she shared, “It took me and James Francies, three years to write (this song). And this is the only song that I think fully encompasses my experience with grief and holding on to my mom and embodying what was lost, and kind of returning to my own perspective.” The free-flowing track allows Yebba to mourn but it allows her to both build herself up and control her emotions rather than they walk and run over her. In a way, it’s as if her mother’s presence hovers over Yebba allowing her to feel and know that she is with her. Her vocal control is astonishing. She massages every note so gently and intently. Her spirit flows through every syllable.
Enchantment continues on the captivating “Stand.” The track is a juxtaposition on the themes of pain and loss in a relationship and that in this sense of Yebba’s mother. Utterly dynamic and compelling, she asks “can you stand the rain?” The texture of her voice soothes the souls of every listener who lends their ear to Yebba. In a way, “Stand” in a way is almost like Yebba speaking directly to her mother and then simultaneously speaking to herself following the loss. It’s as if she’s rebuilding herself, asking herself, “Will you allow this darkness to consume you, or will you rise even in the bleakness and shine even in your loneliness?”
Yebba was brought up in the church. A preacher’s daughter, she would sing at a young age. “Stand” highlights those spiritual sacred undertones felt in church singing and generates an almost out-of-body experience as you listen.
Her genius continues on the upbeat, old-town appealing “Boomerang.” She allows her journey through grief not to solely be her own. Here, “Boomerang” takes the story of Yebba’s close friend’s escaping of an abusive marriage and creates something absolutely powerful. Rather than be battered, bruised, and defeated, “Boomerang” takes this story and creates this almost Old-Western style revenge plot that immediately captivates listeners.
The beauty of Dawn is its humanness. While grief is clearly a huge theme inside of the album, it does not consume the album. For example, a song such as “All I Ever Wanted” finds Yebba still navigating through life, love and the cycle of heartbreak and growth. She sings, “And now I know we both got our obligations/All I ever wanted was you/And yes I know you promised her everything but/All I ever wanted was you.” While it’s not glamorous, it’s still refreshing because she is able to continue to push forward in her life as her mother would want for her to do.
Yebba’s tenderness continues on the mid-tempo, “Far Away.” Poetic, she strings her emotions in such a way that it’s beautiful despite the subject matter being rather down. Even alongside A$AP Rocky, she continues to flow majestically. The jazz-influenced record is magnificent. much like the song’s title, Yebba’s voice cradles listeners taking them far away from reality as her warm, soulful voice places you at ease, if just for a moment. As the album’s first half ends, Yebba refocuses to her dear mother on “October Sky.” Soft and gentle, she recounts her mother’s memory with vivid imagery and detail. She tells the story of how life feels for her now with the absence of her mother. She misses her and listeners feel it through every word. Starting off slow, it dazzles you through its entirety as it builds and Yebba’s passion grows in the song.
Dawn’s second half begins with the Smino-assisted “Louie Bag.” Again, Yebba sheds her skin and voice to adapt to whatever vibe as well as artist she’s paired with. Self-produced by the singer-songwriter, “Louie Bag,” finds Yebba controlling and playing with her voice in various methods that truly just embody what her artistry is all about. It’s multifaceted and limitless. Smino charismatic energy and distinct flow is the icing on the cake. The Missouri living legend flows effortlessly adding even more melody to the harmonious track.. Before reaching the ending of the album, she shape shifts again and delivers an upbeat techno dance infused gem with “Love Came Down.” Produced by Mark Ronson and Kaytranada, the song feels euphoric. She’s still manages to accept and feel joy even in darkness. She finds security and safety within love and the idea of it. She allows her voice to revel in its glory and obvious beauty.
On the album’s final songs, Yebba slows the tempo again with the quiet storm appealing lead single, “Distance.” Her voice transforms yet again, soft, breathy, and utterly soul-filled. The production is God sent and her voice literally can calm oceans with just the slightest note. It’s almost unfair how effortless it sounds as listeners witness her beautiful voice. Her eye for melody and tone is simply untouched. Dawn‘s closer, “Paranoia Purple,” brings back that very same feeling of enchantment that is first caught at the very beginning of (and throughout the entirety of) the album. It is chilling how she goes in-and-out of perspective between both she and her mother. It’s truly dazzling.
Yebba uses her music to heal and also let herself know that her mother is no longer suffering any longer. She is now at peace and she will always be with her to the very ends of the Earth. It is the coming to terms that yes, while her mother is no longer physically present, she lives eternally within. Every time Yebba opens her mouth, her mother lives on. Through her beautiful ministry, lyricism, and artistry, Dawn forever lives. “Paranoia Purple” ends the album beautifully.
Overall, Dawn is much more than Yebba’s debut album. It is an experience. It captivates. It touches souls. And most importantly, it reminds us all that grief is natural. It is ok to feel pain. It is ok to express pain, but healing will always surface to the top. Whether it be days, weeks, or years after the experience or loss, healing will find you with time. With the pandemic putting this same exact pain of loss on many of us throughout the world, this album actually came at the exact time it needed to.
Yebba’s delivery is remarkable. She cannot be entrapped inside any societal box. She effortlessly crosses and bends various genres such as R&B, Contemporary Pop, Jazz, Techno, and more to her very whim. Whether she decides to make another project or end it here, her legacy has already been sealed and etched in the very stars above with Dawn. There is such marvelous imagery and symbolism captivated in these mere 40 minutes. She delivers a lifetime of art within only 12 songs and it’s truly exceptional. The world is Yebba’s for the taking.
Top 5 Songs from Dawn:
How Many Years
All I Ever Wanted