An enjoyable lockdown album from a veteran musician whose new experiment with co-writing has paid off.
Nashville transplant and Vancouver native Steve Dawson is a busy man: if he’s not producing music for other roots artists, he’s touring or putting together his podcast ‘Music Makers and Soul Shakers’ (currently sitting at over 100 episodes). So where did he get the time to write and produce a new album you may wonder? Well, the answer won’t be too much of a surprise to anyone following recent album releases: the pandemic. These aren’t just your standard lockdown-era songs however; they actually represent a big change for Dawson in that they’re the first time he’s felt comfortable co-writing with another musician (Matt Patershuk in this case). Out of the 10 tracks, nine of them are co-writes with Patershuk, the only exception being a cover of a tune originally done by The Faces. The Faces song in question is ‘Ooh La La’, and while it’s easy to agree that the original – with vocals by Ronnie Wood – is fairly soulful, Dawson follows suit in his own way. While his voice may not be as technically proficient as Wood’s, the rawness of it and some sweet harmonies manage to invoke equal amounts of feeling. Covers aside, the rest of the original songs too have a unique and easy but soulful quality to them.
The album opener ‘Dimes’ is a jazzy affair, and it’s the first of four appearances from fellow Canadian Allison Russell (whose debut release ‘Outside Child’ rightly made its way to the top of some impressive best of 2021 lists) and she gives just the kind of beautiful backing vocals you would expect. The wordily titled ‘King Bennie Had His Shit Together’ is a bluesy ode to the Hawaiian musician King Bennie Nawahi and the remarkable life he lived (a master at the steel guitar, he played it with both his hands and feet, despite being blind – that’s when he wasn’t swimming miles in open water of course). ‘Bad Omen’ is about exactly what the title suggests: “Since I was 17 I been living on my own / Tryin’ to bide what I have learned now that I’m all alone / You let a bird in the house, you know bad luck will soon begin / There’s a bad omen scratchin’ at the door…and I just let it in,” Dawson tells us.
The title track is summed up by Dawson as “a simple folk song”, although he may be underselling it a little as its cello heavy introduction elevates it to something quite special. “At night, you can’t see ‘em but you can hear ‘em just the same / Except for the burnin ’taillights that wink out of the frame / Then they’re gone, long gone / Gone, long gone But I am stuck right here at my window above the highway,” he sings, quite matter-of-fact.
‘I Just Get Lost’ is a song Dawson wrote during his (pre-pandemic) time opening for The Wood Brothers, and he credits watching them every night with inspiring to turn what was once an acoustic only song into something electric. ‘Kulaniapia Waltz’ is an instrumental that again showcases his fondness for the traditional sounds of Hawaii, while ‘6 Skeletons in a Car’ is about a time when Dawson and Patershuk came across a car full of teenagers who had spun their car off-road, causing Patershuk to remark that – although unharmed – they looked like “skeletons”.
After ‘Cicada Sanctuary’, a pretty instrumental inspired by the titular insects, we move to the final track ‘Time Had Made a Fool Out of Me’. It’s a simple song that reflects an uneasiness with the passing of time, but some nice harmonies and well crafted lyrics help to raise it to something more impactful. “Time has made a fool out of me / I used to watch the hours slip by / Days faded into dust and now I see / That time has made a fool out of me,” Dawson tells us, with the unavoidable regret that ageing brings.
Co-writing is a kind of alchemy, but here Dawson and Patershuk seem to have been able to create something pretty special when working together, so here’s hoping they continue to create music together, even when we’re living in the dream that is a post-pandemic future.