Video Premiere: Steve Dawson “Oh, California”

Photo credit: Matthew Gilson

Check out this gorgeous new single from Chicago-based singer-songwriter Steve Dawson.  The dreamy ‘Oh, California’ is all about Dawson’s connection with his past and the place where he was raised.  We may not all be from California but we can all relate to the sentiments and themes he explores: our connections to people and places from our past, the obscure details of memory and our own personal narratives. ‘Oh, California’ aches with the passage of time.  Brian Wilkie’s pedal steel is, quite simply, the sound of hazy summers past, distant rememberings of vacations and friendships and the drifting of our lives across time and space.  It is the sonic equivalent of memory.

Dawson says of the song: “This song also went through some big changes. It originally leaned more pop-rock and had more lines in the verses. But it felt like too much and I wanted it to be more plaintive and less clever. So, I simplified the chords and chopped off some lyrics and I like it much better now. Generally, this song is about memories from childhood that keep coming back even after you feel like you’ve made your peace with them. I grew up in Southern California in the 1970’s so that’s where the title comes from. This song features the great Nora O’Connor singing harmony. She’s a sought-after harmony singer who tours regularly with Neko Case, The New Pornographers and was part of Andrew Bird’s original Bowl of Fire. I helped her record her last record and I play in her band these days, which is just a joy. I love her part on this song.  Brian Wilkie plays pedal steel on it and it fills the song with mystery and longing.  Brian is some kind of genius. This new album is kind of built around the idea of him playing on it, if I’m being fully honest. The big swooping ending bit is my attempt at emulating the Beach Boys. I like that this song is really pretty but that the words are a little creepy, especially the second verse about the kid. That really feels like my memories of California.”

The single is from ‘Ghosts’,  Dawson’s sixth solo album is rooted in the past and how it can live on in our experiences; he explains: “I’m very aware the opening song says, ‘The past is gone,’ and then the rest of the album digs through the past.  It was a conscious decision that reflects how it works for me (and others, I assume) where you decide to move on but ghosts from the past keep showing up.”  However, those ghosts also bring a hopefulness for the future that runs through the ten songs here.  Though it’s a personal, emotional record with Dawson’s soulful voice and words at its heart, it was recorded live with the help of a ‘dream band’ of Chicago musicians, giving a rich, full sound.  Dawson says: “Many of my favourite albums were recorded live in the studio.  I was reading about Neil Young making ‘Zuma’ and ‘Tonight’s The Night’, all the 1970s Dylan records, the Band’s second record. The arrangements on this new album were created on the spot, and rather than a collection of overdubs, the album is a performance.”  Enjoy.

About Andrew Frolish 1441 Articles
From up north but now hiding in rural Suffolk. An insomniac music-lover. Love discovering new music to get lost in - country, singer-songwriters, Americana, rock...whatever. Currently enjoying Nils Lofgren, Ferris & Sylvester, Tommy Prine, Jarrod Dickenson, William Prince, Frank Turner, Our Man in the Field...
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