Taylor Goldsmith, songwriter of Dawes, hit the mark with this year’s collaborative release ‘Middle Brother‘ (also featuring John J. McCauley III of Deer Tick, and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit). He, his brother, and bandmates have been pretty busy themselves. The band is currently backing Robbie Robertson (The Band) at his request for his 2011 release, How to Become Clairvoyant. Anticipation for Nothing is Wrong, the sophomore release, couldn’t be higher for this Los Angeles folk rock band.
Coming off of a great 2009 Daytrotter session that formally introduced the music world to their Laurel Canyon/Californian-soul debut, North Hills, everything is going Dawes’ way these days. Hard work and consistent touring are evident on Nothing is Wrong, but there’s only a few reasons to forge forward with repeat listens; Jonathan Wilson, producer, being the first reason. His production on Nothing is Wrong is friendly and warm but it’s also a foil; there’s something grand missing here. Dawes can be a mean, nasty, live rock band capable of achieving anthemic, folk-rock heights—if that’s what they’re aiming for—and that’s largely missing here.
Dawes’ studio performances, tastefully recorded by Wilson to emulate the early 70s Laurel Canyon, CA studio recordings, are another reason to listen through once. See Jackson Browne’s self titled debut along with the follow up, For Everyman, and listen to Nothing Is Wrong— it’s dead on. Goldsmith’s vocal could be a dead ringer for a Browne cover band, but I’d rather listen to Jackson Browne after a few spins of Nothing is Wrong; and that’s the overall problem with Dawes’ sophomore release. The sound of 1970’s California has been done before, and better. I can’t avoid the thought that Dawes has managed to capture the sound of trust-fund ‘hipsters-gone-country-rock-retro-on-the-L.A. scene, begging for the sun’s forgiveness. That sound has little legs to run on out here in the Midwest, where the sun hides 2 out of every 3 days, and people are fucking poor, sick and tired. (Silent tip for the third record’s inspiration, guys.)
Browne’s influence is unavoidable from the get-go (he also guest stars on a track, Fire Away). Album opener, Time Spent in Los Angelos, kicks off with the line, These days, my friends don’t seem to know me without my suitcase in my hand. ‘These days’, those two words, are also the song title to one of Browne’s finer moments on For Everyman, originally written for—and performed—by Nico. Try to avoid influential, Californian, musical connections from the start. Super-session player and full-time ‘Heartbreaker’, Benmont Tench (Tom Petty), shows up for half of the record on organ, but his contributions are not the star here. Goldsmith’s vocals and the bands understated harmonies are another quality reason for repeat listens. So Wells slow-burn chorus & harmonies couldn’t come sooner or often; and so goes most of the record—fleeting moments at best.
Let-down-listening certificates are issued after the last track, A Little Bit of Everything. A wanna-be epic closer that directly rips off Desperados Under the Eaves by Warren Zevon, from his 1976 self-titled major label debut (which Jackson Browne produced). Dawes is a great band capable of so much more than this, ripping off what’s been done better and before, or maybe they aren’t? Quoting characters, Goldsmith sings, … pile on those mashed potatoes and an extra chicken wing, I’m having a little bit of everything, to then close out the record with, It’s like trying to make out every word when they should simply hum along, it’s not some message written in the dark. He couldn’t have described Nothing is Wrong and the songs that make it up any better himself.
Nothing is Wrong is safe, warm folk-rock music that’s sure to attract a few more fans to their growing fan base; but nothing sticks like the surprises that Goldsmith’s ‘Middle Brother‘ collaboration became, or the soulful, debut record for that matter. Maybe they’re only as good as they want to be right now, respected for their live act while ripping off 1970s Laurel Canyon songwriters on record, and (yawn) that’s fine too.
Listen to Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon after trying to find something else that’s right about Nothing is Wrong; and there-in resides the only reasons you’ll need to try this record out at all—Browne and Zevon—start there instead.