AT THE BOTTOM OF A CANYON IN THE BRANCHES OF A TREE
“Exquisite…Singer-songwriter Steve Dawson magnificently blends Americana with classic pop on his latest album, At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree. Dawson’s execution is pretty spectacular…like Warren Zevon recording an Al Green song in 1976…On this album and all his previous ones, Steve Dawson embraces the best aspects of an eclectic artist. His songs employ a genuine sophistication but are easy to fall in love with” POPMATTERS
“After impressing many with last year’s Last Flight Out album with jazz trio Funeral Bonsai Wedding and added orchestral accoutrements, the prolific Chicagoan returns to a more traditional Americana accompaniment for a meditation on love, loss and regret. If, as the title suggests, there’s a slight air of resignation and defeat to this album, it’s still beautifully expressed, via touches like the shimmering slide and CSNY-style harmonies on the title track, a lovely languid guitar figure wrapping around “However Long It Takes” and some irresistibly nostalgic sun-dappled folk-pop on “22 Rubber Bands.” UNCUT MAGAZINE
Pravda is Russian for ‘truth’. At The Bottom Of A Canyon…’s jazzy opening groove, a cocktail of sophisticated dreams, recalls Steve’s jazz-folk outing with Funeral Bonsai Wedding. Then there’s a countryish poignancy to ‘Forgiveness Is Nothing Like I Thought It Would Be’, with lap-steel and an echo of the six Americana albums he did with Dolly Varden. Michael Miles donates banjo to ‘The Spaces In Between’. These are sensitive songs of those days when nothing was happening, slow-paced songs of gratitude for changes, hard-time friends and good-time buddies. Edging into southern soul, drunk on bulletins, exorcising the unbroken patterns of regret and the ghosts of bereavement. These songs are aesthetic mathematics, equations calculated in his Kernel Sound Emporium home studio in Chicago. Sorry might be the hardest word, but forgiveness is a holy place where his assured vocals duet with cover-artist Diane Christiansen on ‘We Are Walking In A Forest’. It is a truth so pure it hurts. ROCK AND REEL MAGAZINE
“a hymn to the mysteries of nature and a love of life, it’s a record that rewards repeated listening.One could pick almost any song on this record and find wisdom and grace…delivered in a voice that thankfully is warm, comforting, strong, and resonant.” FOLK AND TUMBLE
#1 pick for July, 2021: “The singer-songwriter brings his deft, incisive songwriting and gorgeously evocative high tenor to a whole new slate of folk tunes; the first two singles demonstrate a range from traditional folk to high-gloss pop.”
“Inspired meditations wrapped in west coast folk-rock and Chicago soul. Influences are varied with this collection of songs, ranging from classic west coast folk-rock through to a Chicago blues and soul sound. The smooth soulful vocals and electric piano give the opening track, “This is all There Is” a firm placing in the camp of Chicago soul whilst the second track, “Forgiveness is Nothing like I Thought it Would Be” is reminiscent of early Jackson Browne and draws its origins from early 1970s California. The lyrics speak of worldly wisdom with the lines, “Oh forgiveness is nothing like I thought it would be / There’s no choir of Angels / No sunrise epiphany.” Acoustic guitar and banjo give, “The Spaces In-Between” a country flavour, establishing, Dawson’s Americana credentials. On first listening, the tracks feel compartmentalized into their sub-genres but after repeated listening, this feeling dissipates in a more homogenous feel where it is Dawson’s lyrics, his smooth vocals and considered production that rises to the surface. There is clearly a degree of soul searching that has created this album with lyrics like, “Life’s too short and it takes too long / Years Fly by and the days drag on,” creating a pithy paradox. Other stand-out tracks include the slow accordion accompanied waltz, “I Will Never Stop Being Sorry” and the up-tempo, “Time to Remember” with its correspondingly soulful organ tones. And so to the intriguing title that gives this album its name, “At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree” which is based on the dreamlike memory of a childhood photo of Dawson’s sister. A definite Neil Young influence drives the track with a combination of distorted electric and acoustic guitar, high-pitched vocals and a dreamy feel. Whilst Dawson is not afraid to share his musical lineage, what shines through on this album is his ability to imprint his own interpretation of his musical influences on his work, which results in a series of beguiling pieces with which to pass your time.” AMERICIANA UK
“A work of beautiful melodicism, brilliant craftsmanship and emotional depth”
AMERICAN BLUES SCENE
As frontman for Chicago’s Dolly Varden, Steve Dawson has cultivated his status as a local roots-pop institution. Following 2013’s For A While and a pair of albums with the jazz-folk ensemble Funeral Bonsai Wedding including last year’s acclaimed Last Flight Out, Dawson returns with his most cohesive and intimate statement. At The Bottom Of A Canyon In The Branches Of A Tree overflows with loss, sadness, and melancholy, but leans upon a quiet resilience. It’s a portrait of a wounded and weary spirit, gathering strength and creeping back into the light. The song cycle begins with the soulful and understated “This Is A There Is,” telling the hard truth. “It’s not gonna be all right,” sings Dawson. “In my dreams I’m always running but never arriving anywhere,” he sings during “She Knew,” further describing a life of struggle during the restrained and captivating acoustic lament. The song offers gratitude to a mother who was always aware that troubled times were inevitable. “Honey, you always worry too much,” she chides in her resolute pose. “I made a wish, it did not come true,” Dawson confesses during the vulnerable “The Spaces In Between,” a song rendered more cheerful by Michael Miles’ sprightly banjo. “I found other things to do,” Dawson adds to complete the rhyme, adapting and surviving. The album’s overall sound will appeal to fans of heartland songsmiths like Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and pop harmonists like the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris. The arrangements of fare like the yearning, waltz-time “Beautiful Mathematics” echo Laurel Canyon craft, while leaving ample room for Dawson’s haunted and expressive vocals. “Hard Time Friend” draws from the Jackson Browne playbook, with a keening melody, Alton Smith’s sparkling piano, dripping slide guitar and a heart-on-sleeve lyric about a battered soul reaching out for the hand of a steadfast partner – and thankfully finding it. “22 Rubber Bands” is slinky R&B-pop a la World Party, celebrating the soul-saving purpose of becoming one’s best self to care for a beloved child. The album’s forlorn but anthemic title cut is reminiscent of Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer.” The reverb-soaked twang and fuzz of Dawson’s guitar and his expansive, melancholy solo should adapt well as a concert highlight for band dates. The song speaks of being stung by the past, but striving to undo the damage. “We Are Walking In A Forest” is a gently duet with Dolly Varden’s Diane Christiansen. The song spins a dream of aging alongside a trusted partner until the inevitable end separates even the most devoted of couples. In tune with the rest of the album, love and gratitude shimmer through the cracks in the sadness. ILLINOIS ENTERTAINER
“Cathartic Soul Searching Heartbreakers from a Writer with a Poet’s Soul.” Don’t be fooled by the laid back sound here; Dawson’s words and prose are truly heartbreaking when you listen intently, especially on headphones.
The mood stays quite dark throughout; which is obviously no real surprise; but what is surprising somewhat is the beauty and light that Steve Dawson can bring to these stories; none more so than 22 Rubber Bands, which builds and builds until this final verse:
I never loved anything the way I loved you
Impossible and all the way deep through
It’s self-evident on a cursory play that these songs are cathartic; not just for the songwriter himself … but will be for many of us listening too; try playing Hard Time Friend and We Are Walking In a Forest (a duet with Dolly Varden’s Diane Christiansen btw) to hear exactly what I mean. While Steve Dawson is undoubtedly a “household name” in many households; but to the likes of me he evokes memories of musical poets like John Martyn and, of course Van Morrison the way he intricately ties your heartstrings in knots without you hardly noticing; but none more so than his one-time mentor Patty Griffin on the worn and whispering She Knew and the stinging title track itself; AT THE BOTTOM OF A CANYON AT THE BOTTOM OF A CANYON IN THE BRANCHES OF A TREE which is the perfect description for how he must have felt at the beginning of this project; and how many of us regularly feel too. I regularly use the expression “this is a Grown Ups album” and this most certainly fits that description; as the both the singer and listener have to have suffered life’s lows to appreciate the highs and therefore truly understand Beautiful Mathematics, Time to Remember and (one of two bonus tracks on my copy) the haunting You’re Trying Too Hard.
Back to old fashioned descriptions this is very much an album to put on, close the curtains, turn the lights down and simply wallow in; which brings me to my two Favourite Tracks; I Will Never Stop Being Sorry; which covers many, many scenarios in our lives but…but… The other selection comes at the beginning and really made me sit up straight; Forgiveness Is Nothing Like I Thought It Would Be has a twist in the tale that I never expected (and which I’m not going to give away). This is one of those highlights in a writer’s career and comes from someone with a poet’s heart and soul and it appears that Steve Dawson has both in abundance. I’ve fallen head over heels with this album and if I had the time would certainly be bound to discover Steve’s back catalogue; which I urge you to do but perhaps I’m best served just keeping this close to hand for when I need to wallow in Steve Dawson’s insightful strength and wisdom.”
THE ROCKING MAGPIE
“This subtly memorable offering is the brainchild of the highly regarded Chicago based singer-songwriter Steve Dawson, who has already made quite an impression on discerning punters via his musical exploits with criminally under-rated outfits such as Americana specialists Dolly Varden and folk/jazz combo Funeral Bonsai Wedding. Steve’s exquisitely crafted solo output repays closer investigation too, drawing inspiration from the eclectic delights of early seventies California folk-rock and the smooth melodicism of classic Chicago blues, gospel and soul. It’s inspiring stuff, and there was any justice in this benighted world I’d like to think that the richly resonant charms of stand-out tracks from his Pravda Records debut such as Hard Time Friend, Forgiveness Is Nothing Like I Thought It Would Be and Beautiful Mathematics would be required listening for open minded music lovers everywhere.”
“Steve Dawson’s new solo record, with a title that reminded me of Tom Waits, not only shows what an all-round artist he is, but also turns it into a beautiful personal record. At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree describes the situation of someone who found refuge after a turbulent period. While writing this review, I realized that you can consider Steve Dawson to be an underrated artist. Perhaps he enjoys an excellent reputation in North America, and undoubtedly in the Chicago area, but I suspect that he is poorly followed by Dutch music lovers. I myself turned out to have his solo record Sweet is the Anchor (2005) in my closet (took it out again for the occasion). As it goes, far too little played. You do your thing, and every once in a while, you realize you’re a few years further along. His Sweet is the Anchor is inspired by seventies singer-songwriters, and on this latest one, At the Bottom of etc., you will also find the same softness, while if you listen more carefully Steve Dawson uses very thoughtful lyrics. It’s not that his songs jump off the record, or demand their attention. Steve’s strength lies in restraint. Not an artist who still pursues fame or fortune, but one who just wants to make great music and be appreciated for it. Fourteen beautifully written songs on this record.”
JOHNNY’S GARDEN (NETHERLANDS)
Tracks as poignant as â€œShe Knewâ€, â€œHard Time Friendâ€ (between â€œWilling andâ€œ Truck Stop Girl â€by Little Feat), as well asâ€œ I Will Never Stop Being Sorry â€,â€œ Beautiful Mathematics â€andâ€œ We Are Walking In A Forest â€(all three worthy of David Crosby at its zenith) generously extend beyond this framework. Only the shadow of Neil Young would be missing to complete the picture, and it is precisely that of â€œZumaâ€ (with his sustained solos) that pops up around the epic titular track. At a time when we are celebrating the half-century of CSNY’s “Deja Vu”, this cake comes at the right time to extend its legacy. In addition to the twelve tracks of its vinyl version, it is notably enriched by two bonus tracks in digital and CD formats (including the splendid â€œYouâ€™re Trying Too Hardâ€, reminiscent of Nick Drake). A great record
PARIS MOVE (France)
LAST FLIGHT OUT BY STEVE DAWSON & FUNERAL BONSAI WEDDING
This achingly gorgeous album shows what can result from emotional and artistic honesty. It’s a rare and wonderful thing. The songs are expertly crafted, the core band sounds impeccable, but the strings add an element that separates Last Flight Out from other similarly ambitious albumsâ€¦an almost otherworldly sophistication. This isn’t so much an album as it is musical world-building. It contains that level of heft and depth Popmatters
Touchstones. Talismans. Certain pieces of music have the ability to transport you to a different dimension. More than mere music, they become a part of your DNA. You can never imagine a moment when they were not a part of your life. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, John Martyn’s Solid Air and now Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding’s Last Flight Out. Merging the landscape between folk and jazz, it approaches the sublime with subtlety and grace. A touchstone for our times, a talisman pointing to a moment of sheer beauty, Last Flight Out reminds us of the power of music to engage and inspire. Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding offer a gift of humanity. We are connected. May that connection never die Folk Radio
one of the more poignant, melodic, chamber folk/pop albums to pop up in a while. Along with Dawson’s exemplary songwriting what shines through in particular are Jason Roebke’s string arrangements and Jason Adasiewitz’s vibes, brilliant music Echoes and Dust
Stratospheric: A Review of Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding’s Last Flight Out – RECOMMENDED
If the key to longevity is continual reinvention, Steve Dawson’s career is a case in point. He first came to prominence with his indie roots-rock band Dolly Varden, then went solo singer-songwriter under his own name; and in 2014 he debuted his latest project, Funeral Bonsai Wedding, which comprises three local jazz players: vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, drummer Charles Rumback and bassist Jason Roebke. The band’s sound is as idiosyncratic as its name (which Dawson pulled from the window of a florist he passed while riding the CTA).
But Funeral Bonsai Wedding’s second album may be the most startling left-turn yet. Last Flight Out is a collaboration with Chicago-based string ensemble Quartet Parapluie, and the resultant fusion of disparate genres creates a ravishing textural dissonance (thanks to exquisitely sculptural arrangements by Roebke). Track after track, you hear familiar forms in ways that make them seem fresh as paint.
It’s an album steeped largely in melancholy, and it’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from a highly empathic songwriter at a cultural moment marked by outright nihilism. The title track, which opens the album, pits the Quartet’s legato lines against Dawson’s cellophane-textured high tenor, which has a little heart-stopping gasp in its higher registers. And when the minor-key melody resolves into a major chord on the line, ‘the whole, cold truth is revealed,’ it’s such a dazzling surprise that you feel a momentary disorientation. It’s equally unexpected when Dawson steps back from the mic and lets vibraphonist Adasiewicz take the melody for the final third of the tune.
Mastodons, by comparison, is a Gallic-sounding ballad, with some exquisitely literary lyrics (and with a blackness you cannot describe / the tendrils pull, the vessels collide / muscle memory sluggish and dull / no will left to sort or divide); while However Long It Takes features an insanely memorable instrumental riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a Brill Building hit single, set irresistibly against a staggered percussion. The tune also features Dawson’s best vocal performance; all successful storytelling is a matter of tension and release, and when Dawson emerges from a carefully navigated melodic inquiry (Where are you calling from? / I recall your name / Ah, but then again) to vault into a rapturous bridge, he dissolves the tension in a burst of sonic splendor: Oh, I am turning / All this beauty is overwhelming me / I am surrendering, I am surrendering, oh.
Similarly, in The Monkey Mind Is On the Prowl, Dawson imparts some parental advice to a child (Well the shit-mouth kids in the field house / With the splits in their sides from the laughter / Don’t you listen, little pancake / Your skin will grow hard / And you will learn to disregard disaster”then he pulls the rug out from under you with an absolutely emotionally flattening couplet on the bridge: Your mama would have liked to see / The sunlight gathering at your feet. The Quartet steals the show here, especially at the end; while Dawson repeatedly croons, Don’t forget, the strings leap and pull and strive and kick, mirroring the restless, incandescent energy of the child being addressed; but eventually the two “voices” come into accord not speaking together, but speaking in concert.
While We Were Staring Into Our Palms is less a protest song than a lament for a battle already lost and the blame, as might be expected, is on our self-trivialization (While we were staring into our palms / The safety was released. There’s no glimmer of hope in the darkness of Dawson’s vision (All my life I refused to believe the worst of anyone / That when faced with the truth / Goodness would determine the right thing to be done / I was wrong) but there is stirring entreaty to embrace, at the last, good for its own sake. With these final hours / Can we at least / Try to be kind? / Try to be kind / Try. The final track, It’s Not What You Think, is a lovely, contemplative closer; if I’m reading it correctly, it’s an attempt by the artist to explain his inability to do justice to what goes on in his head, how his expression of his ideas is inevitably at some level a betrayal. There is no poker face for me / Despite my best attempts / You read me, obviously / But it’s not what you think. Dawson’s voice is supple and yearning here, and again, can break your heart a little; especially when, on the line, But it’s not what you think / No, it’s not what you think, he drops a full octave for that second ‘not’, giving you the same physical sensation you get when an airplane suddenly loses a hundred feet in altitude.
The only criticism that might be leveled against the album is its brevity; its six tracks (with an additional fragment by the Quartet, a palate cleanser, really) run a mere thirty-one minutes. But this isn’t a criticism I myself am prepared to make. I may be old school, but I believe a record album should be a coherent artistic statement, with a thematic arc that leads the listener over a range of experiences to arrive at a resultant catharsis. The idea that more songs should be added to a set just because there’s room for them is ultimately reductive, downgrading art to product. Last Flight Out is exactly as long as it needs to be; rather than gorge on more, I’m happy to savor each transcendent moment it has on offer. As I certainly will, over the coming weeks. Feel free to join me.
ROBERT RODI – NEW CITY
“An album of quietly affecting songsâ€¦imaginative, risk taking and a beautiful listen. Listen to the almost 8 minute long, wonderfully titled â€˜The Monkey Mind Is On The Prowlâ€™ and be blown away by the feeling contained within Dawsonâ€™s vocals, calling here on the emotional intensity of Neil Finn at his most plaintive as the outro stretches on for 3 minutes or more. We are in unusual musical territory here, it is a terrain to be savoured and embraced. It is music to wash over a weary soul, perhaps prescient in its timing in view of the madness in which we find ourselves now.” – AMERICANA UK
“In a time where everyone is in their homes waiting for the coronavirus to blow over, lots of music is being played and a lot of the time, music fans want something they can relate to. For Chicago native Steve Dawson, he unintentionally created an eerily relatable album â€œLast Flight Out.â€ This is Dawsonâ€™s first album since the release of his 2014 album â€˜Funeral Bonsai Wedding.â€™ This seven-track album is a progression that speaks of serious situations and a roller coaster of depression and positivity. â€œThe song begins the album and the album is a progression,â€ says Dawson. â€œLast Flight Outâ€ is the moment that the truth sinks in and the enormity of the situation takes hold. The album moves through, â€œMastodons,â€ a song about slipping in and out of depression and listlessness as a reaction, and then into the centerpiece of the album, â€œHowever Long It Takes,â€ a song about choosing to see kindness and goodness in the world despite being fully aware of the darkness around us. â€œI will be filled with love,â€ is the chant-like refrain.â€ With darkness continuing to consume the world at a drastic pace, we can look to albums like this for comfort.” – American Songwriter
“Steve Dawson and his jazz-folk band Funeral Bonsai Wedding are gearing up for the release of their new album Last Flight Out on May 8. In anticipation of that release, today weâ€™re excited to premiere a new video for the single â€œHowever Long It Takes.â€ The song is filled with rich instrumentation that sets the stage for Dawsonâ€™s moving vocal performance. Inspired in part by the iconic â€™60s and â€™70s albums by Van Morrison, the new record finds Dawson allowing his talented backing band to create open, freewheeling instrumentation that allows for thoughtful lyricism and exciting improsivation. On Last Flight Out, Dawson is joined by vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, drummer Charles Rumback and bassist Jason Roebke.Â The music video begins with a shot of a decrepit city on a hill, surrounded by garbage and other detritus. A worm-like creature that appears to be made from sausage links twists its way in and out of the earth below the city as water slowly rises up, engulfing the landscape until the city is a solitary island. Thatâ€™s when things start to take a turn towards the mystical and bizarre” – MXDWN
“This album strikes me as being connected to a folk-jazz sound with people like Van Morrison, John Martyn and a record like Ryley Walker’s Primrose Green, but the raw, earthy expression is balanced by the ornate use of strings. The lyrics on the album are also important. I see them as a way of examining what it means to be in the world, and actually think of them as inspirational songs, whether it’s the plea for kindness in While We Are Staring Into Our Palms or the feeling of being overwhelmed by beauty in However Long It Takes.” – All About Jazz
â€œA gorgeous record that soars on the strength of the bandâ€™s collaboration. Itâ€™s almost hard to believe that the album was recorded in a single day â€” every song is polished without feeling rigid, each band member playing off of one another with equal parts precision and leeway. While Last Flight Out might be about fatalism, thereâ€™s no nihilism that comes with it. Instead, Dawson turns that impending end into something productive, something beautiful. â€œWith these final years, can we at least try to be kind?â€ he asks on â€œWhile We were Staring into our Palms.â€ Itâ€™s an admirable idea, one that requires a certain hope in life and love. That hope isnâ€™t naked, though; it permeates all of Last Flight Out, which sits as its own testament to the power and beauty of collaboration.â€ â€“ Mixed Frequencies
â€œQuartet Parapluie (cellist Melissa Bach, violist Vannia Phillips, and violinists Inger Carle and Andra Kulans) bring a warm yet stately eloquence to arrangements penned by Roebke, gorgeously and judiciously shadowing the singerâ€™s anguished struggle to preserve equilibrium in a world turned upside down. The astonishing title track features some of the singerâ€™s most elliptical writingâ€”two short verses confronting a growing helplessness in fight or flight mode in which no clear escape exists. The song opens with a plangent string melody that teeters between uplift and sorrow, and apart from Dawsonâ€™s tender, aching voice and simple acoustic guitar strumming, no other instrument is heard until he finishes up the second verse, with Roebkeâ€™s bass entering almost as a desperate lifeline for the narratorâ€™s sagging spirit. Voice and strings go silent for the remaining 90 seconds, allowing the rhythm section to present a ray of hope in the form of the vibistâ€™s luminescent solo.â€ â€“ Peter Maragsak / Nowhere Street
â€œThis set is a winner on its own merits; the songs are as strong as the singing and the playing is just top-flight all the way throughâ€ â€“ The Vinyl District
PRESS FOR PAST PROJECTS:
“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 â€” vibist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Jason Roebke, and drummer Frank Rosaly â€” follow similar territory on their self-titled debut album. The nine-minute opening song â€œEzra Pound and the Big Wood River,â€ connects images from Dawsonâ€™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: â€œWhere 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,â€ he sings. Adasiewiczâ€™s vibraphone especially lines these songs in a dream, even on the albumâ€™s single rock song (â€œAnywhere You Landedâ€) where they chime steadily amid the dense churn of guitars and rhythm. On â€œHarmonium Song,â€ the instruments clang, shiver, and drone underneath Dawsonâ€™s testimonial vocals. â€œThe Valley of the Whaleâ€ 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 â€” â€œA line formed around the ice cream shop desperate to beat the heat/As sirens split wide the late August airâ€ â€” creating the sense that atop the sheen of all this Americana, there are cracks.”Â Mark Guarino – Chicago Sun Times
“These days Chicago singer-songwriterÂ Steve DawsonÂ is best known for his bandÂ Dolly VardenÂ and his solo endeavors, but over the past decade or so heâ€™s collaborated sporadically with three of the strongest players on Chicagoâ€™s improvised-music sceneâ€”vibistÂ Jason Adasiewicz, drummerFrank Rosaly, and bassistÂ Jason RoebkeÂ (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 identityâ€”not till earlier this year, when they became Funeral Bonsai Wedding. The groupâ€™s new self-released, self-titled debut album feels loose and open, and while itâ€™s definitely popâ€”a hybrid of country, soul, and folk rockâ€”Dawson occasionally takes advantage of that freewheeling vibe to embark upon extended narratives, fortified by Adasiewiczâ€™s bottomless supply of melodic filigree. On the albumâ€™s opener, the discursive, meditative â€œEzra Pound and the Big Wood River,â€ he mixes memories of growing up in Hailey, Idaho (smashing fish called â€œslimeheadsâ€ 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 Dawsonâ€™s soulful wail clearly borrows from Van Morrison. On the hard-driving â€œAnywhere You Landed,â€ which Adasiewicz colors with hammered, ringing harmonies, Dawson vents his frustration with an indecisive person whoâ€™s squandered opportunities and relationships, while on â€œConfusion,â€ 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 hasnâ€™t changed his writing style for his bandmates, but they give him plenty of room to experiment within it.” â€”Peter Margasak Chicago Reader
Â “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 Dawsonâ€™s main band is Dolly Varden, which has been making smart and soulful folk-rock for twentyÂ years, but he has a second group now. His new album, due for release on September 30, is the self-titled debut of Steve Dawsonâ€™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. Adasiewiczâ€™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 Dawsonâ€™s plaintive and pleading vocals. But for all of the â€œAstral Weeksâ€ touches, these tunes are essentially the same sort of solidly grounded songs Dawson has always written. The highlights, like â€œThe Night of the Liquor Store Fire,â€ pull evocative flashes of memory from Dawsonâ€™s real life. When this band plays live, expect those autobiographical poems to stretch out into even jazzier and more rocking jams.”Â 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” andÂ “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.”Â 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.”Â On the short but gorgeous “I Wish That I Could Believe In You Again,”Â Dawson creates multiple layers of his vocals, while on “Long Overdue,”Â he opts for a more basic approach, as if he’s performing live in a small club”Â -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”Â 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”Â, 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.Â Â -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.”
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. ItÃ¢â‚¬™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.Â -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”Â 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.”
Ã‚Â 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”Â SONGS: ILLINOIS