If it weren’t for the Internet, we wouldn’t have Twitter and Facebook. If not for Twitter and Facebook, I wouldn’t have found Dawes, the latest flame of my music loving life. My Twitter/Facebook friends Ken (@KenShane), Judd (@Judd6149), Pete (@ickmusic) and Big Money (@Popblerd) from this site, turned me on to this California band a couple years ago between the release of their first and second albums. Since then I haven’t been able to stop proselytizing for them. As someone who grew up with classic rock radio in the Seventies and Eighties, Dawes’ blend of songwriting, playing and harmonizing was at once fresh and yet instantly recognizable. When I heard they went into the studio last year to record their third album for their own HUB label, it went right to the top of my most anticipated releases of 2013. Stories Don’t End officially hit the shelves today, and it’s more than worth the wait.
Chafing against their “Laurel Canyon Sound” label, Dawes (Taylor Goldsmith on lead vocals and guitar, Griffin Goldsmith on drums/vocals, Wylie Gelber on bass and Tay Strathairn on keyboards/vocals) went to Asheville, North Carolina, and worked with producer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Kings of Leon) to find a different sound from their first two albums. The result has just enough changes to their sound without being a total departure from their previous work. The first single, “From a Window Seat” has an almost frenetic, jittery feel to it, reflecting songwriter Taylor Goldsmith’s own nervousness about flying. On other tracks Gelber’s bass plays a more prominent role, particularly on the opening track, “Just Beneath the Surface”, and “Someone Will” with their loping bass lines.
The bands’ throwback sound (as much as I hate to call it that) is still in evidence, and that’s a good thing in my book. The playing throughout the album is really crisp, but still as comfortable as that pair of Levis you’ve always loved. Tracks such as “Most People” and “From the Right Angle” are filled with chiming chords and hooks, and the former has a vocal break that just knocks me out. Their cover of Blake Mills’ “Hey Lover” is the most infectious song I’ve heard this year (Mills and the Goldsmiths were formerly in a band called Simon Dawes), and getting the chorus stuck in my daughter’s head was my proud parenting moment of this past weekend.
The Goldsmiths and Strathairn to show off their vocal chops with soaring harmonies on “Bear Witness” and “Something In Common”. But unlike a lot of neo-folk bands that have good harmonies but are in search of good songs, Taylor Goldsmith’s songwriting continues to be a strength for Dawes. Relationships are at the heart of most of the songs. Some are about relationships gone south like the title track or “Side Effects”. Others like “Just My Luck” find the singer realizing he lost his chance, while “Someone Will” finds him struggling to tell a girl how he feels. In other words, they’re situations we can all relate to in our own lives. Like the singer of “Someone Will”, we’ve all had a few shots of liquid courage before coming clean to someone else about how we feel. Goldsmith nails it perfectly.
One of the many contenders for my favorite song on the record is “Bear Witness”. Instead of character that could easily be Goldsmith, this one’s told from the point of view of a hospitalized, dying man talking telling his son/daughter and the love he still holds for the wife that’s gone before him. It’s a wonderful song on an album full of them.
Dawes are out on the road opening for Bob Dylan (I’ll see them tonight in Lowell, Mass.) before doing a headline tour of their own later this summer (with another recent fave of mine, Shovels and Rope, opening for them). I’d highly recommend seeing them if they come to your town (except in New York proper where they’re playing the execrable Terminal 5; go see them with me at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester a few weeks later instead). They put on a good show and the couple of times I’ve seen them they’ve hung out at the merch table after their set. They’re really good guys.
Dawes have gotten a lot of respect from both peers and elders (playing behind Robbie Robertson and Jackson Browne), and if there’s any sweet, musical justice in this world, one of the hardest working bands out there today will start to enjoy even more success. I can’t keep going door to door talking them up, so go buy the record and hear for yourself.