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Laurel Canyon country best describes these rootsy soft-rockers from the North Hills in Los Angeles, a calming influence in today’s sniper-friendly nu-metal and rap scene. Taking their cue from turn-of-the-70s acts, CSN&Y, The BAND, JACKSON BROWNE and the EAGLES, the peaceful easy feeling of gentile, vocal-rich harmonies, solidify at least three generations.
The son of real estate businessman and former SWEATHOG singer/keyboardist, Lenny Lee Goldsmith, singer/strummer Taylor Goldsmith founded the group in 2004, then as SIMON DAWES, with high school buddy and co-songwriter/guitarist Blake Mills. Living in the enviable Malibu Beach suburb of Los Angeles, the fresh-faced indie-rockers were a different kettle of fish to their generic outcome in DAWES. The sprawling, upbeat combo – completed by bassist Wylie Gelber and seasoned session drummer Stuart Johnson – left behind two collegiate records before dissolving into the indie ether. On the back of a well-received, Warner Brothers-financed mini-set/EP, `What No One Hears’ (2005), the Tony Berg-produced CARNIVORE (2006) {*6} had all the retro-fied elements to make them stand out from the crowd. Described as The KINKS, The BEACH BOYS and CHEAP TRICK rolled into one, the amiable songs on board were of the hook-line variety, with profound lyrics Goldsmith’s forte, by way of minor gemstones, `Got A Light?’, `Lazy Daisy’, `Save Your Ticket’, and a leftover from ’05, `The Awful Things’. Sadly, after a good innings, including a support to BAND OF HORSES (with Alex Casnoff as guitarist), SD called it a day; Mills released a solo album (“Break Mirrors”) and toured with the aforementioned BOH.
Shortening their moniker to DAWES, Taylor opted for a fresher and lighter sound, while surrounding himself with likeminded musicians: brother Griffin Goldsmith (drums), Tay Strathairn (guitar) and the returning Gelber. Hooking up with producer Jonathan Wilson, the quartet embarked on some ad hoc jam sessions alongside Conor Oberst (BRIGHT EYES), Chris Robinson (The BLACK CROWES) and stalwart TOM PETTY sidekick Benmont Tench. Confident, now, with their newfound love of the retro rock, DAWES named their first album after their home-ground of NORTH HILLS (2009) {*7}. Re-energising the look and feel of the early 70s (with a nod to GRAM PARSONS and DAVID CROSBY), Taylor’s emotive vocal chords were as breezy as the plaintive songs suggested: one could pick out `That Western Skyline’, `Bedside Manner’, `My Girl To Me’, `Take Me Out Of The City’ and `If You Let Me Be Your Anchor’.
NOTHING IS WRONG (2011) {*7} upped the ante on straight-laced ballads and country-rock, while the band traded on the Americana sound as if they’d invented it. Augmented by Ben Peeler (lap steel guitar), the legendary JACKSON BROWNE, Alex Casnoff (on piano) and Benmont Tench, himself, the set’s growing sales were in no doubt due to the horizontal and pining, `Time Spent In Los Angeles’, `So Well’, `Moon In The Water’, `Fire Away’ and `A Little Bit Of Everything’.
Switching labels to their Hub imprint (backed by Relativity), DAWES borrowed a line from a Joan Didion novel to complement their Jacquire King-produced third set, STORIES DON’T END (2013) {*7}. Deserving its Top 40 position among the rock-pop elite, Taylor again takes the soft-rock option, although in a few longer tracks (`Side Effects’, `Most People’, two examples), he strapped on his NEIL YOUNG head; his lyrical prowess came into play on `From A Window Seat (Rivers And Freeways)’, `Someone Will’ and `Something In Common’. Also, the former Simon Dawes collective goes full circle with a credit to Blake Mills’ for `Hey Lover’ – a nice touch.
A nicer touch still was when Goldsmith took his esteemed place (alongside ELVIS COSTELLO, Jim James, Marcus Mumford and Rhinna Giddens) on T-BONE BURNETT’s studio supergroup, The NEWE BASEMENT TAPES. Putting music to words left by DYLAN in 1967 and unearthed by T-Bone, the double-album `Lost On The River’ (2014) was also filmed for a DVD release featuring stand-in Johnny Depp.
Augmented by guitarist David Rawlings on production, 2015’s ALL YOUR FAVORITE BANDS {*7} was recorded at Woodland Studios in Nashville. Organic country-rock rather than via any Grand Ole Opry style, the desert-sand footprints of their past idols were still imbedded into the heart of their harmony-fuelled tracks, the most poignant and memorable coming in the shape of `Things Happen’, `Don’t Send Me Away’, `Waiting For Your Call’ and a near-10-minute HALL & OATES-ish parting, `Now That It’s Too Late, Maria’.
Subliminally or inadvertently utilising a line from SUFJAN STEVENS’ sadcore song `Fourth Of July’, WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE (2016) {*7} was DAWES’ fifth album. Without too much hyperbole, the imaginative record swept up another Top 50 place. Produced by former Simon Dawes associate Blake Mills, there was only so many melodic routes he could take their easy-going blend of infectious country-folk. While 40 years ago, the multi-faceted EAGLES made their transition within the many rooms of Hotel California, the lone Goldsmith’s creative factor had its constraints. But that mattered not to “peaceful easy feeling” fans not looking for “life in the fast lane”. More TWEEDY than Sufjan, the horiziontally upbeat Taylor and Co worked out their day-to-day dilemmas a la `When The Tequila Runs Out’ (the download single) and `Less Than Five Miles Away’. DAWES resonate their steady strumming and joyous harmonies as if there was no tomorrow, and maybe that makes sense of the nontranslucent title track, among the cocktail-sipping `Picture Of A Man’ and charged-up opener `One Of Us’.
Following on from a rather low-key – and unnecessary – concert double-LP, WE’RE ALL GONNA LIVE (2017) {*6}, the rootsy DAWES turned their time-machine dials back to the AOR-80s for PASSWORDS (2018) {*7}, a near Top 50 album that was in simpatico with the likes of BRUCE HORNSBY, GLENN FREY and DON HENLEY. Sadly, rawkier opening salvo `Living In The Future’ belied most of the band’s bittersweet messages of hope and salvation on show. The quartet’s Laurel Canyon motifs were still intact by way of producer Jonathan Wilson; although simplistic code-breakers `Stay Down’, `Crack The Case’, `Feed The Fire’ and `Telescope’ portrayed an easy-on-the-ear coda.
© MC Strong/MCS Apr2013-Jul2018

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