Dawes – [Album]

Tuesday, 07 June 2011

LA band Dawes keep good company. Their 2009 debut, North Hills, was born out of informal jam sessions with Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, the Heartbreakers' Benmont Tench, The Black Crowes' Chris Robinson and Wilco's multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone. More recently, Robbie Robertson selected them to be the backing band for his public appearances in support of his new record, How To Become Clairvoyant, on which singer/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith also guests. Their sophomore effort, Nothing Is Wrong, again features Tench and sees Seventies singer/songwriter Jackson Browne guesting. The support of these great artists says a great deal about both their potential and ability, so it is no surprise that there is a fair bit of buzz surrounding this release. While I wouldn't go as far as to say that "nothing is wrong" on Nothing is Wrong, I will say that it is an ambitious and impressive album, featuring a collection of California classic rock textures and songs which pick up right where North Hills left off.

To say that Dawes are inspired by late Sixties and early Seventies classic rock radio would be a huge understatement, as they have ambitiously attempted to incorporate as many of these conventions as possible into Nothing Is Wrong from the guitar solos; "The Way You Laugh" (George Harrison), "If I Wanted Someone" (Neil Young), "My Way Back Home" (Dave Gilmour) to the harmony vocals which recall The Band on "So Well" and "Million Dollar Bill," and Crosby, Stills, Nash on "My Way Back Home" and "If I Wanted Someone". The album is full of familiar melodies, accents and sounds that show Dawes are intimately aware of their rock n' roll ancestry; especially that of the Laurel Canyon area from which they hail. Personally, I think they are at their best when channeling the grittier side of this sound, but I acknowledge this has a lot to do with my personal preferences.

Highlight tracks include "Time Spent In Los Angeles" and "If I Wanted Someone," which see Dawes channeling Tom Petty and, like a good Tom Petty song, there are swelling organs, big choruses and guitar parts that Heartbreaker Mike Campbell would approve as they are well thought out, not overly complicated, but perfectly placed and timed. The guitars on this record just sound generally terrific, whether on the acoustic numbers like "Million Dollar Bill" or "So Well," or the louder electric sounds of "If I Wanted Someone" or "Fire Away.” Fans of Crosby, Stills and Nash-like harmonies will also find plenty to like about the vocal performances as all of the songs showcase the band's harmonizing skills. The conclusion of "My Way Back Home" is a particularly good moment for anyone looking to get their feet wet with this record and experience both the harmonies and guitar work that define Nothing Is Wrong.

All praise aside, there were a few moments on Nothing Is Wrong that struck me as awkward. On the closer, "LIttle Bit of Everything," Goldsmith over enunciates each word which ends up detracting from an otherwise great song. I almost wish someone would have put a couple of drinks in him before recording this as it is such an unfortunate ending to an album full of stellar vocal performances. On "Fire Away,” the band sounds great, but the chorus is a little too "on the nose.”  "Moon in the Water" and "How Far We've Come" are weak links but, admittedly, this could just be my taste clouding my objectivity because they sound more like Paul Simon or Cat Stevens and the softer side of the Seventies genre which I don't favor. However, it's on these tracks where it feels like Dawes are overreaching and trying to do too much. Overall, this overreaching would be my only criticism of Nothing Is Wrong; at their best, Dawes are totally convincing in their homage to the Seventies California sound but at their worst they are just trying to do too much. Overall, the band has delivered a set of tight, well-thought-out songs that show a ton of promise. I get the feeling that this isn't the best album the band is capable of making – that's still ahead of them – but Nothing Is Wrong is a good one that will fit nicely into my summer playlist.



Dawes – “If I Wanted Someone” – Nothing Is Wrong

Nothing Is Wrong
comes out on June 7, 2011 via ATO Records. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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