Press

PRESS
“One of the most underrated songwriters in American music
, Chicago-native Steve Dawson has been helming influential rock band Dolly Varden since the early ’90s, producing humane and hooky solo records, collaborating with his wife Diane Christiansen and digging into soul on side projects. His newest venture is Funeral Bonsai Wedding, a jazz-folk collaboration that flashes with the vibraphone of Jason Adasiewicz on impressionistic but memorable arrangements that recall the best of Tim Buckley or Astral Weeks-era Van Morrison. Those may seem like lofty notices, but Dawson has a way with melody and image that live up to them.” Roy Kasten – St. Louis Riverfront Times

“Steve Dawson is known as the primary architect behind Dolly Varden, the much-loved Chicago folk-pop ensemble, as well as for his solo albums where he indulged a love of Southern soul. Funeral Bonsai Wedding is a new incarnation and one that expands his strengths through collaboration with a group of improvisational jazz musicians who give space and mood to his lyrical themes. The feeling in similar to a string of albums Van Morrison made in the 1980s where jazz inflections and tone poems having to do with childhood and Christianity resulted in transcendent music that floated back and forth between the far pockets of distant memory and present day awakenings. Dawson and his new band — vibist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Jason Roebke, and drummer Frank Rosaly — follow similar territory on their self-titled debut album. The nine-minute opening song “Ezra Pound and the Big Wood River,” connects images from Dawson’s childhood in rural Utah and casts them in a call-and-response with the clatter and bounce of the music. These are pungent images and many of them haunting: “Where Hemingway blasted off his own head/Caddisflies creep through the riverbed/When we smashed the slime heads on the rocks/I felt a part of my soul got lost,” he sings. Adasiewicz’s vibraphone especially lines these songs in a dream, even on the album’s single rock song (“Anywhere You Landed”) where they chime steadily amid the dense churn of guitars and rhythm. On “Harmonium Song,” the instruments clang, shiver, and drone underneath Dawson’s testimonial vocals. “The Valley of the Whale” similarly showcases the deep sensibilities the musicians share with the words. What makes these songs seductive is that nothing is pinned down, but everything has weight. Some images blend banality and panic — “A line formed around the ice cream shop desperate to beat the heat/As sirens split wide the late August air” — creating the sense that atop the sheen of all this Americana, there are cracks.”  Mark Guarino – Chicago Sun Times

“These days Chicago singer-songwriter Steve Dawson is best known for his band Dolly Varden and his solo endeavors, but over the past decade or so he’s collaborated sporadically with three of the strongest players on Chicago’s improvised-music scene—vibist Jason Adasiewicz, drummerFrank Rosaly, and bassist Jason Roebke (Dawson worked with Adasiewicz and Rosaly at Jazz Record Mart in the early aughts). They never played together on a whole record, though, or coalesced into a band with its own identity—not till earlier this year, when they became Funeral Bonsai Wedding. The group’s new self-released, self-titled debut album feels loose and open, and while it’s definitely pop—a hybrid of country, soul, and folk rock—Dawson occasionally takes advantage of that freewheeling vibe to embark upon extended narratives, fortified by Adasiewicz’s bottomless supply of melodic filigree. On the album’s opener, the discursive, meditative “Ezra Pound and the Big Wood River,” he mixes memories of growing up in Hailey, Idaho (smashing fish called “slimeheads” on rocks along the bank of the titular river, getting high and spying on a young Mariel Hemingway in a posh swimming pool), with thoughts about Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway, who both spent some time living in the area. The profusion of detailed verses summons the spirit of Bob Dylan, and Dawson’s soulful wail clearly borrows from Van Morrison. On the hard-driving “Anywhere You Landed,” which Adasiewicz colors with hammered, ringing harmonies, Dawson vents his frustration with an indecisive person who’s squandered opportunities and relationships, while on “Confusion,” which combines the groove of a vintage Stax hit with glassy, shimmering tones from bowed vibraphone keys, the narrator prefers to stay in limbo rather than face an ugly truth. Dawson hasn’t changed his writing style for his bandmates, but they give him plenty of room to experiment within it.” —Peter Margasak Chicago Reader

 “An ambitious and enveloping record, self-titled, officially releasing at the end of the month. It was recorded live in three studio sessions this spring. The album brings to mind “Astral Weeks,” the 1968 Van Morrison record that combined Morrison’s talents with those of top jazz players in a fervent song cycle that remains near the top of many all-time best albums lists. It’s unfair, of course, to compare the Funeral Bonsai Wedding record (or any other) to that, but it has some of that feeling of open, flowing structure; of musicianship that’s all hard muscle and easy, graceful power; of songs that strive for poetry and soul. This is especially true on “Ezra Pound and the Big Wood River,” the 9-minute opener that rolls like a river as Dawson evokes his Idaho upbringing, from lost loves to famous area residents Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway. “When I conceived of this album and I started thinking about actually making it happen rather than an idea of ‘Someday I’ll do that,’ that was the first song that popped out,” said Dawson. “It’s built around this recurring riff – a line of lyric then the riff, a line of lyric then the riff. That to me seemed like something those guys could grab onto. And it had this kind of rave up quality.” Steve Johnson – Chicago Tribune

“Chicago singer-songwriter Steve Dawson’s main band is Dolly Varden, which has been making smart and soulful folk-rock for twenty years, but he has a second group now. His new album, due for release on September 30, is the self-titled debut of Steve Dawson’s Funeral Bonsai Wedding, a collaboration with three local jazz musicians who are noted for their inventiveness: vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, drummer Frank Rosaly and bassist Jason Roebke. Adasiewicz’s chiming vibes function like the lead instrument in this outfit, filling the space normally occupied by guitar riffs or keyboard chords. At times, those metal tubes seem to be ringing out in reply to Dawson’s plaintive and pleading vocals. But for all of the “Astral Weeks” touches, these tunes are essentially the same sort of solidly grounded songs Dawson has always written. The highlights, like “The Night of the Liquor Store Fire,” pull evocative flashes of memory from Dawson’s real life. When this band plays live, expect those autobiographical poems to stretch out into even jazzier and more rocking jams.”  Robert Loerzel – New City

“There was a time when popular radio was defined by the craftsmanship and raw talent of folks like Al Green, Paul McCartney and Carole King. Steve Dawson would have fit in just fine. As part of Chicago’s criminally under-known Dolly Varden he’s churned out nothing but quality for 15 years, but his second solo outing, I Will Miss The Trumpets & The Drums carries the timeless inflection of vintage Roy Orbison and George Harrison. Personal, philosophical, and subtly orchestrated, Dawson’s tunes sway with whispers of pedal steel, finely placed echo, and a tasty acoustic/electric guitar combo, all underpinning one of the great pop-rock voices of our time, a set of pipes both instantly appealing and flecked with warm, individual character. Think Ace-era Paul Carrack mixed with Elliott Smith and Big Star’s Chris Bell. Put into service for compositions packed with melody, texture and winning wordplay and you have a classic artist hiding in plain sight. Listen!” Jambase

As chief steward of Chicago’s alt-country combo Dolly Varden, Steve Dawson’s status as an Americana original is unquestioned. Yet even though his tenure with the band has produced five albumss over the course of a 15-year history, Dawson still has plenty to offer individually. This, his second solo album (third if one counts Duets, recorded with foil Diane Christiansen), stakes out new terrain by embedding soul, a hint of gospel and even some brass into his standard MO. The results can be surprising at times, with strong arrangements and a series of stunning vignettes like “Obsidian,” “Long Overdue,” “A Conversation With No One” and  “Today She Found the Way (To Break My Heart)” adding up to one superb set.
-M Music & Musicians magazine

“This, the second solo album by guitarist Steve Dawson – the third if you count his collaboration with singer Diane Christiansen — is a gently sublime affair, one that rarely raises the volume above a whisper but still manages to make a gilded impression regardless. Dawson, whose day job finds him at the helm of the Chicago Americana outfit Dolly Varden, is a master when it comes to crafting gently engaging melodies and supple musings, songs that are pretty and appealing without coming to any real crescendo. The trumpets and the drums certainly don’t make the mix, but other accompaniment does – the violins that ease the slow glide through “Know Now” and bolster the vibrant “Goodbye,” the strings that gird the ache of “Mastodons,” the lonely cornet affirming the quiet drift of “It’s Not What You Think” and the clarinets that spark the jaunty title track. Truth be told, this is one of those albums that needs more than an initial listen to spark a connection in the frontal lobes before making full impact, due to Dawson’s tendency to amble at his own pace. The austere arrangements and an unhurried attitude make “mellow” the operative word here, but it’s that general air of dreaminess that helps bolster its charm. Nevertheless, opening track “Obsidian” makes enough of an emphatic impression to suggest Dawson can craft a catchy hook when he sets his mind to it, an impression further bolstered by the equally amiable “A Conversation With No One” and the relatively resilient “Preaching to the Choir.”  The end result is an album of low-lit wattage that still manages to burn brightly.Standout Tracks: “Obsidian,” “A Conversation With No One,” “Preaching to the Choir” – BLURT (LEE ZIMMERMAN)

Steve Dawson and his singer / guitarist wife Diane Christiansen have been mixing cutting-edge rock with country & western in their band Dolly Varden for years. I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums, Dawson’s first solo effort since Sweet Is The Anchor in 2005, offers further proof that he’s a master of this musical hybrid, and shows him drawing from other genres as well. It’s a labor-intensive project that involves him playing several instruments, with occasional help from guest musicians. “Today She Found The Way (To Break My Heart)” evokes Van Morrison as Dawson’s soulful vocals exude heartache on lines like, “I never wanted to face this kind of loneliness, but I guess I’m gonna have to start / because today she found the way to break my heart.” “Goodbye,” which finds Dawson backed by a full band, is another R&B number, and he gets back to country rock on the title track, “Worry, Worry, Worry,” and “Obsidian.” On the short but gorgeous “I Wish That I Could Believe In You Again,” Dawson creates multiple layers of his vocals, while on “Long Overdue,” he opts for a more basic approach, as if he’s performing live in a small club”  -Illinois Entertainer

Steve Dawson has released a solo album that owes more to Crowded House and the Hollies than the normal influences that I would expect from someone with his background. I Will The Trumpets And The Drums has a nice groove throughout and songs like It’s Not What You Think,” “A Conversation With No One” and “Preaching To The Choir” all stand a chance of getting quality airplay on the radio. When I say “airplay” I mean the sort of programme that plays album tracks, because that’s what this is – an album of songs, not just a collection of loosely thrown together tracks as is so common these days. The harmonies and phrasing definitely bring back memories of Crowded House and even Stevie Winwood’s recent solo work. The songs, playing and production are all of the very highest quality and Steve Dawson’s voice sounds superb now that it has been given free range to sing songs that only a post 30-year-old could write and sing. The final song, It’s Not What You Think”, with its occasional pedal steel, cornet and vibraphone is one of the nicest love songs that I’ve heard in a long time. Track it down – you won’t regret it. I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums certainly deserves to introduce Steve Dawson to a much larger audience.   -Maverick Magazine (UK)

Few Chicago singer-songwriters have been as solid for as long as Steve Dawson and part of the reason has to be that he’s never changed his impeccably crafted mix of twang, soul, and pop in order to follow a trend. He writes great songs and sings them beautifully. Most of Dawson’s work has been with his long-running band Dolly Varden, but he’s best when he calls all the shots – and on his second solo album, the new I Will Miss the Trumpets and the Drums (Kernel Sound Recordings/Undertow), he played every instrument and sang every note, with only a few exceptions. The familiar Dawson signposts are there: the Al Green/Hi Records sound of “Goodbye,” the vintage Van Morrison feel of “Today She Found the Way (to Break My Heart)” and as usual he also delivers subtler numbers without such clear pedigrees. On songs like the harrowingly beautiful “Mastodons” and the gospel-tinged “I Wish That I Could Believe in You Again” (where he simulates a choir by multitracking his own voice), emotional darkness lurks beneath the grace -Chicago Reader

“I first came across Steve Dawson through Dolly Varden, who’s last three releases are firm favourites and I would highly recommend them. I Will Miss The Trumpets and the Drums is Steve’s second solo album but the first I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. The lead off track from the album entitled Obsidian is an engaging opener – a lovely slice of pop-soul with guitar, organ and pedal steel combining with Dawson’s smooth soul laden vocal. Much of the album was created by Dawson working solo in his Chicago studio and it has been put together beautifully with a eye for detail, splashes of pedal steel, vibraphone and violin carefully blended with guitar and keyboards, there’s a range of styles on display here, from the acoustic solo Long Overdue to the catchy retro-pop soul of Goodbye, the quality shines throughout and Steve’s one man band approach yields further highlights on A Conversation With No On and the bitter-sweet soul of Today She Found The Way To Break My Heart – on which Steve provides all of the instrumentation: guitars, keyboards and percussion. Another favourite track of mine from the collection is Mastodons, where acoustic bass, vibraphone, guitar and strings combine in an eerie dream-scape, check out the video animation below which is a collaboration with his wife and fellow band member in Dolly Varden, Diane Christiansen, the couple have also recorded a duets album that’s available from both iTunes and eMusic. Diane is a talented singer-songwriter as well as an accomplished artist and this animation is part of a larger work called Notes To Nonself which has showcased at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. Elsewhere on the album support comes from a talented bunch of Chicago based musicians – Frank Rosaly (drums), Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone), Josh Berman (cornet) Joel Paterson (pedal steel) and Jason Roebke (bass) who’s contributions fit seamlessly with Dawson’s – the end result is a wonderful collection of original music, the writings sharp, the melodies memorable, the vocal enriching – all in all its a real aural delight and an instant favourite, the album is released today on Undertow.”
-Beat Surrender

A bit of this, a bit of that. A total joy for the ears…
Steve Dawson, frontman for the Chicago group Dolly Vardon, releases his second solo album “I Will Miss the Trumpets and the Drums”, and boy is this one a corker. Dawson lends his considerable skill towards this eclectic humdinger of an album that tantalises the ears and calms the soul. And in terms of genre it’s a bit of a rollercoaster: we have country rock, country folk, soul, soul and more soul with a sprinkling of jazz and even some acapella gospel. It’s a musical tossed salad. The album bursts open with the uplifting Obsidian, followed by the lullaby melody Long Overdue. Dawson’s bittersweet tunes join with his (sometimes) fragile vocals – it can’t fail to tug at the heartstrings. Don’t listen to this if you’re drinking gin, it will make you cry. A Conversation With No-one has a farily innocuous start but flowers into something epic towards the end. Mastodons is elegant, heartfelt, heady, jazzy and ever so slightly ethereal. Forget fossils, we’re talking hot Parisian nights wired on caffeine. A truly beautiful piece of music, and possibly the stand out track. I could rattle off a list of why each and every song on Dawson’s album is great, which they are. But this is no school assignment. The best thing about I Will Miss the Trumpets and the Drums is the musical journey, leaving a feeling you’ve just been taken somewhere special. Super duper. – Americana UK

“There’s no reason to miss ’em, since there’s a cornet (which is kind of a trumpet) on the last cut, and drums on most of the others. But the title track, “I Will Miss the Trumpets and the Drums” sets the melancholy tone of most of the second album by Steve Dawson (of Chicago band Dolly Varden). “You are cruel / You are cold / You are only getting worse as you grow old.” Now that’s not exactly a love song. Actually, the funny thing about this song is it’s more about the future than it is about the past, more about the possibility than the loss, more about taking action than suffering. And it’s actually about as jaunty a number as Dawson offers this go-round, with a clippity-clop, pseudo-Bakersfield country rhythm wedded to jazzy chord changes and featuring a nifty clarinet solo. The more one tries to pin Dawson down, the slipperier his music gets. Whether with Dolly Varden, the band he’s co-led with his wife Diane Christiansen for 15 years now, or on his own, Steve Dawson doesn’t fit in any single genre. From alt-country to folk rock, from classic pop to Muscle Shoals soul, Dawson draws influences into the service of his impeccably formed melodies and his intriguing, bittersweet lyrics. The two best songs here show off more of the soul he displayed on 2005’s Sweet Is the Anchor . “Today She Found the Way (To Break My Heart)” could have been a smash for Percy Sledge as a follow-up to “When a Man Loves a Woman,” with its tale of a man who opened himself up to love only to flail helplessly as his beloved walks away for no obvious reason. Dawson plays all the instruments himself, and his electric piano, organ, soulful guitar licks, and steady bass and drums push his vocals to a fever pitch of pain and confusion and yearning. “Goodbye” moves more in the Hi Records direction, with a nod to Al Green. This time Dawson is in control, vowing to be ready if his love comes back, but not crying about it. The song is a spitfire take, with driving drums and churning bass, and swirling strings and a vibraphone to match, as Dawson refuses to let the pain sink in. Instead, he makes sure the woman knows how wrong she is, and we root him on as he snarls, “Someday you’ll realize I’m the one who’s always been on your side / Til then, it’s goodbye.” There are delicious pop gems (“Obsidian,” “A Conversation With No One”) and beautiful acoustic folky numbers (“Long Overdue” and “It’s Not What You Think”), as well. All in all, Dawson delivers another strong record in a career that deserves more attention than it’s so far received.” -Steve Pick, KDHX-FM, St. Louis, MO

“Steve Dawson is not a topical balladeer in the traditional folk sense. His songs are hard-hitting observations of contemporary life, and of love and love lost. They are delivered with clever lyrics, and Dawson’s clear, rich, understated voice. His songs are typically upbeat, rock, blues, and alt-country. The song, Mastodons, is my favorite from his upcoming release, I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums, due Feb 23rd. A hauntingly beautiful song, led by his melancholy vocals, and downbeat arrangement, and Steve’s clever use of space. The arrangement is lush, but not overly large and complex. At four and a half minutes, the song is not short, yet it’s beauty unknowingly slips away as the song fades out, leaving me wanting to replay the track….the sudden feeling that something so sublime can be fleeting, and lost to us, in these hectic times. Tom Waits would be happy to spin this one.” – Call It Folk

“Between the lines of Steve Dawson’s Sweet Is the Anchor, there’s a riot going on — albeit a contemplative one, impelled by the neo-country soul a man must make if he’s stranded on a floodplain with Al Green’s The Belle Album and a short-wave radio picking up news of another airstrike. On Anchor, his first solo album, Dawson breaks down politics with the eloquence of Jeremiah, turns his ire on himself, and lets vibes and violins sing every homesick soul back home again.” – ST LOUIS RIVERFRONT TIMES

sublime vocals that break with anguish, murmur in isolation, and can suddenly break out and summon rigorous heights, Sweet Is The Anchor is a vocalist’s album awash in the languor of country music and the Saturday night highs of soul. The obvious touchstone is the early 70s when rock cross-pollinated with country on the West Coast, Al Green was cutting his best work in Memphis, and Van Morrison soaked up both sides of the aisle on albums that belted blue-eyed soul in the context of folk music and jazz. -CHICAGO DAILY HERALD

Dawson’s casually masterful style is apparent on Love Is A Blessing, a standout track from his solo debut, Sweet Is The Anchor. The song is a gorgeous Al Green-style ballad that’s steeped in the old Hi Records sound–washes of strings, fatback bass drum, and subtly funky guitar lines–but its the purity of the singing, not the arrangements, that makes me think of Anchor as a soul album”  THE CHICAGO READER

Steve Dawson’s graceful, poetic pop songs are akin to a volume of great short stories in their precise, exacting wordplay and soulful heartache.”
 CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

“Steve Dawson has made an exquisite blue-eyed soul record. The warmth and soul that oozes from the digital bits encoded on this cd keep me returning to it over and over again”  SONGS: ILLINOIS