It's Always Darkest Before Dawn

Dana Thompson was heartbroken. She couldn't pay her rent. The time was right to record a country album.

Perhaps it's Thompson's familiarity with geographic isolation that keeps reminding me of Iris DeMent. Although she spent most of her childhood in southern California, her family's roots are in DeMent Island, a slice of land in the St. Francis River, and it's that remote Arkansas locale that seems to come through in her voice. Both Thompson and DeMent convey a fragile intimacy that's unnerving--as if they don't expect anyone else to be listening.

There were certainly moments during the year that it took Thompson to complete Ox when she wondered if anyone would ever hear her album. "We did the basic tracks and then we started dubbing, and I almost found myself homeless," she recalls. Thompson was forced to defer recording and take care of more mundane matters. "I had to move," she says. "My daughter and I had moved like four times since she was born. She was in kindergarten and she couldn't memorize her address because we were always moving."

In June, Thompson, who works in merchandising at Target Corporation, bought the Lyndale house, a cozy two-story green home on a woebegone block just south of Lake Street. "It's perfect for me and my girl," she says. But after Thompson had settled into her new place, she had to delay the recording process again to have neurological surgery on her foot (which had been a chronic bother).

"I could still be working on it if I wanted to because I'm not 100 percent happy with it," Thompson says of the album. "But I decided at some point to just abandon it and be done. Call it finished."

The next album shouldn't take so long. In Thompson's side yard, where a garage would normally stand, is the plywood frame of a recording studio. She hopes to have it built by June, but given the competing interests for her time, the end of summer seems like a safer bet. "I'm just gonna start cranking out records as soon as that thing gets done," she promises.

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