The Memphis Dawls are known as the crowning jewel of the Memphis folk scene. The core group is made up of three veteran musicians who have played with several successful local bands. Brought together by their similar tastes in melody and style, and maybe a slight nod from fate, Holly Cole (guitars, vocals) Jana Misener (cello, vocals), and Krista Wroten (viola, mandolin, accordion, vocals) deliver hauntingly romantic and lyrical folk music with a modern flare.
The themes of the band’s music tend to lean toward the power of love and heartache, just like their musical mentors: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. Their harmonies and music push folk, country and rock through the filter of southern hymns. Religious only in the context of their dedication to their respective crafts, they deliver a unique and hypnotizing sound that jumps from genre to genre. The Dawls are not afraid to be inventive, exploring soundscapes ranging from complex vocal harmonies similar to bands like Fleet Foxes to the more complex string arrangements of The Decemberists.
The threesome originally began playing together in their teens, but The Dawls didn’t make their professional debut until 2010. After high school, Wroten, Cole, and Misener all sought musical careers — but they went in three different directions. Cole travelled west to Los Angeles, Wroten went to Boston, and Misener left for Chicago. As time would pass, each would work their way back to Memphis.
Upon returning to Memphis, Cole began playing the solo circuit, and was asked to join local collective Makeshift Music. The established alternative label, known for releasing music from popular Memphis bands like Lucero, Snowglobe, The Coach and Four and Two Way Radio, released her first solo effort Fearless and Free back in 2006. Cole put together a full band before releasing her next effort, called Holly and the Heathens. The group featured some of Memphis’ finest talent, including Greg Faison (Jump Jack Jake, Tiger High), Brandon Robertson (Snowglobe) and Jake Vest (Third Man, Tiger High, Bullet Proof Vests).
The act would also bring her back to working with Wroten, who would play “countrified” violin with the Heathens project. The result would be a less folksy, more boozy, honky-tonk sounding album that was well received by critics.
During this time, Misener was playing cello for road warriors Giant Bear as well as playing with The Sultana. When Cole began toying with more romantic arrangements of some of her songs, she called upon Wroten and Misener to add strings to her music and the Memphis Dawls were born. The addition of Nahshon Benford (Snowglobe, Lucero) on trumpet and Jonathan McLaren on drums brought together a sound that the group fell in love with.
Although all three ladies have busied themselves with various artistic endeavors, Wroten touring with Amy Lavere, Misener continuing to play with The Sultana, and Cole finishing up a BA in Sculpture at The University of Memphis, The Dawls would be the main focus for the trio much of 2011. In that year, a fated call from engineer Matt Brown would get them in the studio to record their first release. Their debut was a 4 song EP with spacious arrangements and passionate lyricism. Noted for its scope in atmosphere, emotion, and sense of texture, the Dawls’ initial release is an involving experience worth diving into. Over the past year, the Dawls have focused and sharpened their sound, poised for national exposure.