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Tue May 14, 2013
Music Reviews

Dawes Knows Where It's Been And Where It's Headed

Originally published on Sun May 19, 2013 6:27 am

If you heard the Dawes song "Just Beneath the Surface" and said, "Somebody's been listening to their old Jackson Browne albums," you're not exactly insulting Dawes. The band has actually backed Browne on tour — and Browne has sung backup on at least one of its songs — so you could say that Dawes comes by its riffs and phrasing honestly. You could, that is, if you want to pigeonhole the group as a throwback to the Southern California soft-rock of the '70s, which would be a mistake. Why, in the very next track on the new Stories Don't End, Dawes sounds like East Coast '70s soft-rock, in the Steely Dan-ish "From a Window Seat."

I kid Dawes about its influences, because I like the way these guys carry those influences with their own good humor, and with a loose assurance that their distinctiveness will shine through. In the lovely "Stories Don't End," singer-songwriter-guitarist Taylor Goldsmith talks about the ineffectiveness of talk — how words cannot express all that he wants to say about the woman he's describing, the feelings he has for her. For that, he requires not only words, but also the slightly fuzzy timbre of his voice and the gentle drumming of his brother Griffin Goldsmith. He gets closer, in this way, to suggesting how complex a story one song can tell, because as the title reminds us, the stories of a relationship, once launched, don't end. We impose a narrative — a beginning, middle and end — upon them.

For Taylor Goldsmith, communication — connection — is always elusive. This album is loaded with lyrics about how people don't hear the sentiments beneath a conversation, how the person to whom Taylor Goldsmith most wants to express his affection is ignoring him, or is looking for love from someone else. A key line in "Most People" is, "Most people don't talk enough about how lucky they are." In "Someone Will," the music that surrounds his words is frequently spare, but it can rise up and around the verses to breathe additional life into the singer's fading romantic hopes.

Taylor Goldsmith is also a member of the part-time, semi-supergroup Middle Brother, whose debut album was in my Top 10 of 2011. That music was generally more rough, more intentionally unfinished, than the music Goldsmith makes with his own group. I admire bands that can capture not just big, universal emotions and ideas, but also little, specific, tricky ones. Dawes crafts songs about the shifts of mood and attitude between two people by approaching them from different angles; by doing the musical equivalent of sidling up to them and eavesdropping, and then transforming that found material into art. That's what Dawes manages on the frequent best moments of Stories Don't End.

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

The rock band Dawes has just released its third album called "Stories Don't End." It's currently on tour and on some dates is opening for Bob Dylan. The band has cited Neil Young and Crosby, Stills, and Nash among its influences. Rock critic Ken Tucker says the new Dawes album illustrates the band's link to an earlier era of rock. Here's his review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST BENEATH THE SURFACE")

DAWES: (singing) Have you ever bought your little girl Glamour Shots and the events of that whole day spent at the mall? Because it may be a part of you, you didn't know you were clinging to. As if that's where the secret had taken a toll most of all. Like a feather that finds its invisible path as it falls. Just beneath the surface...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: If you heard that song and said somebody's been listening to their old Jackson Browne albums, you're not exactly insulting Dawes. The band has actually backed Browne on tour - and Browne has sung backup on at least one of their songs. So you could say that Dawes comes by their riffs, licks, and phrasing honestly.

You could, that is, if you want to pigeonhole this quartet as a throwback to the Southern California '70s soft-rock, which would be a mistake. Why, in the very next track on the new album "Stories Don't End," they sound like East Coast '70s soft-rock, on the Steely Dan-ish "From a Window Seat."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FROM A WINDOW SEAT")

DAWES: (singing) I buckle in my seatbelt and plug my headset in a chair. And to the music I watch flight attendants move. They are pointing out the exits but it looks more like a prayer or an ancient dance that bloodline reaches through. These planes are good for sifting through the warriors from the men. I get time to sit and watch them for a while. You could see everywhere they're going and everywhere they've been.

(singing) And how they look out at the clouds each time they smile. And I think maybe he's in town for someone's birthday...

TUCKER: I kid Dawes about their influences. I kid because I like the way these boys carry those influences with their own good humor, and with a loose assurance that their distinctiveness will shine through. On the lovely title song "Stories Don't End," singer-songwriter-guitarist Taylor Goldsmith talks about the ineffectiveness of talk.

How words cannot express all that he wants to say about the woman he's describing, the feelings he has for her. For that, he requires not only words, but the slightly fuzzy timbre of his voice and the gentle drumming of his brother Griffin Goldsmith.

He gets closer, in this way, to suggesting how complex a story one song can tell, because as the title reminds us, the stories of a relationship, once launched, don't end. We impose a narrative - a beginning, middle and end - upon them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "STORIES DON'T END")

DAWES: (singing) From a paper umbrella in both of our drinks to the shadows that walk without us. My account of the details is as clear as you'd think, kept up by friends that still ask about us. If our lives were a movie, if our lives were a book, they'd be longer than I'd recommend. 'Cause if you're telling a story at some point you stop but stories don't end.

TUCKER: For Taylor Goldsmith, communication - connection - is always elusive. This album is loaded with lyrics about how people don't hear the sentiments beneath a conversation, how the person to whom Taylor Goldsmith most wants to express his affection is ignoring him, or is looking for love from someone else.

A key lyric in the song "Most People" is: Most people don't talk enough about how lucky they are. And in another tune, "Someone Will," the music that surrounds his words is frequently spare, but it's also music that can rise up and around the verses to breathe additional life into the singer's fading romantic hopes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEONE WILL")

DAWES: (singing) Grab your cigarettes and follow me out of the living room. And I'll get drunk enough to tell you how I feel about the men you love and how they are seem to get the best of you. 'Cause if I don't say these things you know someone will. If that look in your eyes...

TUCKER: Taylor Goldsmith is also a member of the part-time, semi-supergroup Middle Brother, whose debut album was in my 2011 Top Ten. That music was generally more rough, more intentionally unfinished, than the music Goldsmith makes with his own group.

I admire bands that can capture not just big, universal emotions and ideas, but also little, specific, tricky ones. Dawes crafts songs about the shifts of mood and attitude between two people by approaching them from different angles; by doing the musical equivalent of sidling up to them and eavesdropping, and then transforming that found material into their art. That's what Dawes manages on the frequent best moments of "Stories Don't End."

GROSS: Ken Tucker is FRESH AIR's rock critic. You can download podcasts of our show on our website freshair.npr.org and you can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.