Artist’s Website: http://dawestheband.com
Heart-on-sleeve, sun-drenched postcards from upstart Southern Californian country-folk-rock revivalists.
Dawes is a relatively new band, having only released their debut album in 2009. North Hills was recorded live to tape with a variety of guest musicians, reportedly including Benmont Tench from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Pat Sansone from Wilco. Nothing Is Wrong is the follow-up album, and was recorded in a more traditional studio setting.
The Dawes sound is instantly recognizable to anyone who has some dog-eared Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or Jackson Browne albums in their collection. Think of acoustic ballads inspired by the Laurel Canyon days and wistful multi-part harmony singing, then sprinkle in some Heartbreakers-style electric guitars and keyboard washes. On paper this sounds a little derivative, but the songwriting and recording is so flawlessly executed that it’s impossible not to love.
Nothing Is Wrong kicks off with back-to-back instant classics. “Time Spent In Los Angeles” holds its own with the very best road-weary mid-tempo rock songs. The natural reverb of the guitars and the swelling keyboards are gorgeous. So is the vocal melody, which effortlessly flows from verse to chorus. You can almost picture yourself cruising in a convertible down the Pacific Coast Highway with the sun splashing into the Pacific while this plays on the radio. “If I Wanted Someone”, meanwhile, is a modern take on Neil Young’s “A Man Needs A Maid” with growling guitars and a big chorus.
The themes of distance, isolation, time and travel feature prominently in the lyrics, as song titles like “My Way Back Home”, “Coming Back to a Man”, and “How Far We’ve Come” will attest. The words are direct and thoughtful, and sung with enough conviction to come across as genuinely heartfelt. It’s nearly impossible to fake sincerity, but one gets the sense that Dawes don’t have to fake it.
If there is something wrong with Nothing Is Wrong, it’s that despite some variations in tempo there is not a lot of dynamic variety between songs. “So Well” is a quieter acoustic guitar and piano ballad, while closer “A Little Bit Of Everything” jettisons the guitars altogether. But elsewhere, each song sounds like a long-lost Jackson Browne campfire classic. Which is a brilliant thing if you find yourself wondering why nobody writes songs like these anymore, but makes it a little bit taxing to listen to the entire record in one sitting.
If Dawes can pull off a little more dynamic variety on album #3, say by using Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush album as a template, they could be huge. For now, the pristine Southern California craftsmanship on Nothing Is Wrong will continue to win them fans wherever they play.