Laurel Canyon is one of those legendary geographical locations that has taken on a mythic presence in the annals of rock and roll. Numerous books have been written about the mystique of this California valley where country, folk and rock melded to produce some of the most endearing sounds ever recorded. The likes of the Mamas & Papas, Joni Mitchell and even Frank Zappa took residence in this eucalyptus-lined conclave. It was a commune of composers, each inspiring each other to great heights with collaborations and mutual admiration. It was, for a time, utopia.
One of the finer histories of the era is Michael Walker’s “Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock And Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood” and Barney Hoskyns’ “Hotel California” for those of you who enjoy the Readers Digest version. And for those of you even less prone to reading, perhaps you might prefer an audio history of the music and it’s influences. Sure you can replay Carole King’s “Tapestry” for the millionth time or the Eagles’ “Greatest Hits,” but isn’t it time for a new interpretation of the era and a freshening of the sound?
That’s where the band Dawes comes in. Astute music fans in the Vail Valley will recall that they opened for Alison Krause at the Vilar Center last time she came through town and now they have the same gig for Bob Dylan’s North American tour. What do these artists know that the music buying public hasn’t quite figured out? Dawes is the history of Laurel Canyon in sound. The California singer songwriter soul reinterpreted for today’s music lovers.
The band’s three albums are a definitive aural history of the late 1970s music rooted in the inspirational valley of sound but shaped for today’s ears. Their 2009 “North Hills” debut reflected the country rock and sparse instrumentation of the influential Byrds and the Gram Parson’s inspired Flying Burrito Brothers while their second release “Nothing Is Wrong” moved us into the Crosby Stills, Nash and Young era with electric jams, extreme harmonizing and plain spoken lyrics. Now their third release, “Stories Don’t End,” gives us Jackson Brown personified.
Understanding it’s high praise to compare a band’s first three releases to the fine company of the era’s stalwarts, it’s plain to even casual listeners that this band merits attention. Even if you just like playing guess the influences as there are plenty throughout the band’s discography to enjoy. Try listening to “If I Wanted Someone” from their second album without imaging Neil Young’s “Harvest” album in it’s entirety. It’s like a single dip ice cream cone with all 31 flavors in it.
It’s also a formula the band and its growing base of fans sees no reason to abandon. Their newest release tends to explore Jackson Brown “Running On Empty” era. Taylor Goldsmith’s opening vocal on “Just Beneath The Surface” will make you double check to be sure someone hasn’t slipped “The Pretender” into your CD player. However, you’ll shake your head and approve of all things Dawes.
It’s a mission they admit they’ve been on as far back as their first album when they cautioned themselves, “now the only piece of advice that continues to help, Is anyone that’s making anything new only breaks something else.”
But the news here is that with their third album they have broken nothing. In fact they have reminded us of how music can evolve to be a respectful echo while blazing some new ground. Think of how sweet a 1965 Mustang looks and yet the 2013 version is so much more, well with it. Besides who can you get to work on the 1965 version?
Which is why bands like Dawes need to be celebrated. Their accessible brand of contemporary music, mixed with a legacy of some of the finest singer songwriters, is a welcome modern fresh coat of paint on a remarkable sound. Besides the band is still performing regularly in respect of their elders who can’t seem to put their egos away to bring us new music. So if it’s the pleasing country rock from an era you thought was over that you are seeking, Dawes is ready to fill some big shoes for you.