As one of New York City’s favorite daughters, it’s tempting to imagine that Dana’s career began amidst the subterranean throb in the clubs on the Lower East Side. One fateful day, pounding the sidewalks of the Lower East Side, Dana heard the missing puzzle-piece, in the form of Jon Diamond: a heavyweight session guitarist who could already boast credits with Joan Osborne and others. “I was walking by this little club and I heard his guitar from the sidewalk,” she recalls of the musical partnership that flourishes to this day. “I introduced myself to Jon on the break, told him I thought he was great, and that I had come to New York to be a singer. So, he invited me up to sing, and I faked Stormy Monday. Afterwards, he said, ‘You have a good instrument, but you really need to learn what you’re doing’.” After Jon exposed her to his encyclopedic blues vinyl collection, Dana’s astonishing natural vocal prowess took on new depth and nuance. And so they were ready. Together, Jon and Dana hit the Lower East Side’s live circuit like a wrecking ball, holding their own on bills featuring titans like James Cotton and Taj Mahal, and quickly earning a residency at the Red Lion club. Four nights a week, they shook the foundations until 3am, but there was already the sense they could be far more than a rocking covers band. “Every Tuesday night,” Dana recalls, “we’d play all night, and that’s where we wrote our first handful of tunes and we’d try them out on the crowd.”
By now, all eyes were on her, and after being spotted by musicians from Broadway’s orchestra pits, Dana won the lead in the hit musical Love, Janis, followed up by the role of Sadie in 2007’s Golden Globe-nominated cult movie, Across The Universe. “We’d been slugging away in New York,” she recalls, “and then I got the show playing Janis Joplin five nights a week. Jon taught me Piece Of My Heart and I went down – and that was it. That led to Across The Universe. The director, Julie Taymor, asked if I could act. So of course, I lied and said, ‘Oh yeah!’”
Still deeper depths were plumbed on 2013’s “blisteringly good” Bliss Avenue: an album that saw Dana battling back into the light after the death of her brother, and reaching for redemption on cuts like So Hard To Move and Vagabond Wind. “It really purged my soul,” she said, “in a starker, more naked way, lyrically and musically”.
It takes a brave artist to rip it up and start again. But her new album Love Lives On is the best kind of evolution, seeing Dana burst defiant from her darkest days with a sound inspired by the siren call of American soul. “It’s a new beginning for me in every way,” she says. “I’m looking forward to starting chapter two.”