Music hacks are occasionally guilty of getting a bit carried away when reporting new scenes. Often, even the purported key participants of the much-hyped new movement aren’t aware of their membership in the club they’re supposedly leading. Which is most likely the case with Dawes. But allow us to plaster our portrait in the hall of shame for the terminally over-excited, for there does indeed appear to be a bit of ‘scene’ bubbling under the surface in the canyons of Los Angeles.
Consider the evidence. First, one of the most legendary late-60s LA outfits the Buffalo Springfield reformed amidst the kind of hoopla they struggled to attract first time around. Now, Jonathan Wilson and Dawes – who have been instrumental in reviving an active musical community in the legendary musicians’ and artists’ enclave Laurel Canyon – release new albums immersed in the sounds and “vibes” of a particularly fertile era in LA’s musical past during the same Summer.
So the evidence is a bit flimsy. But let’s not let the absence of hard facts get in the way of a threadbare theory. The last major musical upheavals to hit LA, namely the early 80s hardcore punk outbreak and the Jack Daniel’s-scented hairspray fumes of mid-to-late-80s hair metal, ignored the city’s musical past with varying degrees of vehemence. This current mini-movement, on the other hand, doesn’t just take pride in the past accomplishments of the city’s musicians. Both Wilson and Dawes base their entire acts on a particular stretch of the city’s musical timeline: the late 60s, early 70s rise and reign of the Songwriter, that permanently heartbroken reporter of the deep, deep blues that accompanied the gradual dismantling of hippie idyll.
At the risk of wreaking havoc on this newly coined micro-genre (let’s call it LA Revival), an admission: Dawes don’t really sound anything at all like Jonathan Wilson. Wilson’s brilliant debut Gentle Spirit clears the long-overgrown trail that leads into the troubled heart of the dope-scented dark night of the soul that descended on LA’s canyons in the very early 70s. Dawes prefer to travel on well-lit boulevards, with the smooth tones of vintage Jackson Browne – who Dawes have backed on several occasions – appearing to be a key point of reference. As evidenced by the tightly structured likes of the pretty ‘Moon in the Water’ and the brightly sparkling ‘Time Spent in Los Angeles’, Dawes seem to rank the disciplined craftsman responsible for dishing out hit songs for the likes of the Eagles – hints of whom can be heard in the shared lead vocal duties, harmonies and rollicking yet steadfastly melancholy country-rock vibes that dominate here – above the downbeat author of such confessional classics as Late for The Sky (1974) and The Pretender (1976).
The outcome is an album that sounds skilled and accomplished rather than truly inspired. That’s not the say Dawes’ second album is without its charms. I defy anyone not to find themselves humming hook-laden highlights such as ‘Fire Away’ pretty much instantly. The album’s sound is appealingly loose and unpolished. Yet Dawes sound a bit too housetrained and polite to truly excite. During the rare moments the four-piece engage in more explorative activities (check out the extended coda to the downbeat ‘My Way Back Home’) it’s possible to catch a glimpse of the much more compelling band Dawes could well evolve into.
However, most of this controlled album makes you envision a cigar-chomping label mogul of yesteryear seated in the control booth as the band’s cooking in the studio, remind “the boys” that no one’s ever made much money in this business by pushing the boat out too far into uncharted waters.
All told, Nothing Is Wrong is an apt title. There’s absolutely nothing amiss here. In fact, if you enjoy country-hued rock ‘n’ roll with a sizable side order of heartache, you’d be a fool to miss it. But ultimately there’s just not enough truly great about it either.