Inspired meditations wrapped in west coast folk-rock and Chicago soul.
We have, in part, Richard Thompson to thank for Dawson’s return to the Americana scene and the recording of his new album after a hiatus of several years. Making a journey to the Catskills Mountains for Thompson’s songwriting camp something happened to Dawson that prompted him to reflect that, “It reminded me of why I started doing it in the first place when I was a teenager” adding, “I got home from that and started working on this album.” The city of Chicago awarding Dawson an esteemed artist award together with $10,000 has also helped see the release of his new work.
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 compartmentalised 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 some of your time.