“There was a time when popular radio was defined by the craftsmanship and raw talent of folks like Al Green, Paul McCartney and Carole King. Steve Dawson would have fit in just fine. As part of Chicago’s criminally under-known Dolly Varden he’s churned out nothing but quality for 15 years, but his second solo outing, I Will Miss The Trumpets and the Drums, carries the timeless inflection of vintage Roy Orbison and George Harrision. Personal, philosophical, and subtly orchestrated, Dawson’s tunes sway with whispers of pedal steel, finely placed echo, and a tasty acoustic / electric guitar combo, all underpinning one of the great pop-rock voices of our time, a set of pipes both instantly appealing and flecked with warm, individual character. Think Ace-era Paul Carrack mixed with Elliot Smith and Big Star’s Chris Bell. Put into service for compositions packed with melody, texture and winning wordplay and you have a classic artist hiding in plain sight.” JAMBASE
Steve Dawson was born in California, raised in Idaho, and currently lives in Chicago. His songs show evidence of all 3 places - the California folk-rock of the early 70's (Gram Parsons, Neil Young, Jackson Browne), the country music he heard growing up in Idaho, and the blues and soul music of Chicago. Dawson first picked up guitar at age 12 and began writing songs almost immediately. His first professional gig was playing guitar with Cadillac Carl and the Road Rangers at the Silver Dollar Saloon in Bellevue, Idaho. After high school, Dawson attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, studying jazz composition and songwriting, while also performing in the local folk music scene. In the early 90’s Dawson moved to Chicago. Upon his arrival he met Diane Christiansen and they formed the band Stump the Host, which became a training ground and a showcase for Dawson’s eclectic songwriting. In 1995 Stump The Host changed personal and evolved into a new band, Dolly Varden, releasing the first of five albums that would reflect the growing craft and depth of his songs. Critics from Rolling Stone, Uncut, and the Village Voice, among many others, have praised Dawson's gift for melodic, evocative songwriting. Dolly Varden has toured all across the US and Europe over the last 14 years. In 2006 Undertow records released Dawson's first solo album, ‘Sweet Is The Anchor’ a collection of quiet, layered songs recorded in Steve's home studio. Critics noted Dawson's heightened strength as both a songwriter and singer, combining elements of country and soul: "Sweet Is The Anchor is a vocalist’s album awash in the languor of country music and the Saturday night highs of soul” (Chicago Daily Herald) Dawson's latest solo album, “I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums” (Undertow, 2010), was once again self-produced and recorded in Dawson’s home studio, Kernel Sound Emporium. The follow up to “Sweet Is the Anchor”, the new album features 13 haunting, melodic songs about change and letting go, sung in Dawson’s plaintive tenor, with echos of classic country, pop and soul. In addition to performing and recording Dawson teaches songwriting at the world famous Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.
Steve Dawson - acoustic / electric guitars, singing, electric piano, Frank Rosaly - drums, Jason Roebke - upright bass
"I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums" (2010)
Dolly Varden: "The Panic Bell" (2007)
"Sweet Is The Anchor" (2005)
Steve Dawson & Diane Christiansen: "Duets" (2003)
Dolly Varden: "Forgiven Now" (2002)
Dolly Varden: "The Dumbest Magnets" (2000)
Dolly Varden: "The Thrill of Gravity" (1998)
Dolly Varden: "Mouthful of Lies" (1995)
Stump The Host: "California Zephyr (7" singer, 1993)
Our New Favorite Artist
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There was a time when popular radio was defined by the craftsmanship and raw talent of folks like Al...There was a time when popular radio was defined by the craftsmanship and raw talent of folks like Al Green, Paul McCartney and Carole King. Steve Dawson would have fit in just fine. As part of Chicago's criminally under-known Dolly Varden he's churned out nothing but quality for 15 years, but his second solo outing, I Will Miss The Trumpets & The Drums carries the timeless inflection of vintage Roy Orbison and George Harrison. Personal, philosophical, and subtly orchestrated, Dawson's tunes sway with whispers of pedal steel, finely placed echo, and a tasty acoustic/electric guitar combo, all underpinning one of the great pop-rock voices of our time, a set of pipes both instantly appealing and flecked with warm, individual character. Think Ace-era Paul Carrack mixed with Elliott Smith and Big Star's Chris Bell. Put into service for compositions packed with melody, texture and winning wordplay and you have a classic artist hiding in plain sight. Listen!
The Best Chicago Albums of 2010
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Nashville would be wise to recruit the gifted songwriter, currently the brains behind Dolly Varden. ...Nashville would be wise to recruit the gifted songwriter, currently the brains behind Dolly Varden. Steve Dawson’s carved out a niche for himself as frontman of Dolly Varden, cranking out quality power-pop for nearly two decades. However, the singer-guitarist dials down the volume on his second solo album, I Will Miss the Trumpets and Drums, which in turn fluffs up the strands of soul and twang stuffing his humble Americana patchwork.
Released one year ago, I Will Miss hints at the hard-charging promise of his main gig, yet removes his foot from the gas. Dawson’s got a gift for wistful balladeering, too, and his tender acoustic sketches could put a smile on the face of even the most jaded. Woozy pedal-steel swoons through folk gems such as “Obsidian” and “Worry Worry Worry.”
He’s been gigging sporadically behind the album, often pulling together a backing band from the ranks of the local jazz scene in a nod to his formative years at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. For this show, he’s lined up three of Chicago’s most in-demand improvisers—vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly—who together bring more than just chops, fleshing out the material with remarkable restraint.
Joining Dawson up front is his wife and Dolly Varden bandmate Diane Christiansen. Together, the duo embarks on a U.K. tour next month, making tonight a send-off of sorts, not to mention a rare opportunity for superfans: Dawson celebrated his birthday last year with a gig at Simon’s Tavern, and a recording of the boozy bash is available free to the first 50 people through the door.
I WILL MISS THE TRUMPETS AND THE DRUMS - REVIEW
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As chief steward of Chicago’s alt-country combo Dolly Varden, Steve Dawson’s status as an Americana ...As chief steward of Chicago’s alt-country combo Dolly Varden, Steve Dawson’s status as an Americana original is unquestioned. Yet even though his tenure with the band has produced five albums over the course of a 15-year history, Dawson still has plenty to offer individually. This, his second solo album (third if one counts ‘Duets’, recorded with foil Diane Christiansen), stakes out new terrain by embedding soul, a hint of gospel and even some brass into his standard MO. The results can be surprising at times, with strong arrangements and a series of stunning vignettes like “Obsidian”, “Long Overdue,” “A Conversation With No One” and “Today She Found the Way (To Break My Heart)” adding up to one superb set.
I WILL MISS THE TRUMPETS AND THE DRUMS - REVIEW
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This, the second solo album by guitarist Steve Dawson - the third if you count his collaboration wit...This, the second solo album by guitarist Steve Dawson - the third if you count his collaboration with singer Diane Christiansen -- is a gently sublime affair, one that rarely raises the volume above a whisper but still manages to make a gilded impression regardless. Dawson, whose day job finds him at the helm of the Chicago Americana outfit Dolly Varden, is a master when it comes to crafting gently engaging melodies and supple musings, songs that are pretty and appealing without coming to any real crescendo. The trumpets and the drums certainly don't make the mix, but other accompaniment does - the violins that ease the slow glide through "Know Now" and bolster the vibrant "Goodbye," the strings that gird the ache of "Mastodons," the lonely cornet affirming the quiet drift of "It's Not What You Think" and the clarinets that spark the jaunty title track.
Truth be told, this is one of those albums that needs more than an initial listen to spark a connection in the frontal lobes before making full impact, due to Dawson's tendency to amble at his own pace. The austere arrangements and an unhurried attitude make "mellow" the operative word here, but it's that general air of dreaminess that helps bolster its charm. Nevertheless, opening track "Obsidian" makes enough of an emphatic impression to suggest Dawson can craft a catchy hook when he sets his mind to it, an impression further bolstered by the equally amiable "A Conversation With No One" and the relatively resilient "Preaching to the Choir." The end result is an album of low-lit wattage that still manages to burn brightly.
Standout Tracks: "Obsidian," "A Conversation With No One," "Preaching to the Choir" LEE ZIMMERMAN
Steve Dawson: Groove Is In The Heart
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Between the lines of Steve Dawson's Sweet Is the Anchor, there's a riot going on -- albeit a contemp...Between the lines of Steve Dawson's Sweet Is the Anchor, there's a riot going on -- albeit a contemplative one, impelled by the neo-country soul a man must make if he's stranded on a floodplain with Al Green's The Belle Album and a short-wave radio picking up news of another airstrike. Yet Steve Dawson makes his living at a record store in Chicago and found his groove with a soul cover band, even as his previous outfit, Dolly Varden, took a break at the precise moment it might have broken nationally. On Anchor, his first solo album, Dawson breaks down politics with the eloquence of Jeremiah, turns his ire on himself, and lets vibes and violins sing every homesick soul back home again. -Roy Kasten
Sweet Is This 'Anchor'
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Sweet is this 'Anchor' BY MARK GUARINO Daily Herald Music Critic Posted Thursday, August 25, ...Sweet is this 'Anchor'
BY MARK GUARINO
Daily Herald Music Critic
Posted Thursday, August 25, 2005
The death of a parent, the theft of recording equipment, the terrorism of 9/11 and the anger created by its aftermath all figure into the new album by Steve Dawson, but not in ways that stand up and demand attention.
Dawson, the primary songwriter and singer in the longtime Chicago band Dolly Varden, writes lyrics that create vivid images but don't necessarily evoke a complete story.
The songs, however, don't sound fragmented because of his sublime vocals that break with anguish, murmur in isolation, and can suddenly break out and summon rigorous heights. "Sweet is the Anchor" (Undertow) is a vocalist's album, awash in the languor of country music and the Saturday night highs of soul. The obvious touchstone is the early '70s, when rock cross-pollinated with country on the West Coast (Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, Gram Parsons), Al Green was cutting his best work in Memphis, Tenn., and Van Morrison soaked up both sides of the aisle on albums that belted blue-eyed soul in the context of folk music and jazz.
"I'm more of a fan of singers than songwriters," Dawson said this week, from his home in Wicker Park, where he lives with his wife, the painter and songwriter Diane Christiansen, and their 13-year-old daughter Eva. "I love that early-era Elton John stuff, Wings, Jackson Browne. When I could walk around with an A.M. radio to my ear and hear Stevie Wonder in the mix. It was a great era where the genre wasn't as important as a catchy song."
Dawson's album was recorded mostly at home, which meant sessions in an impromptu studio space but also the living room and bathroom ("the vocals sound pretty good in there"). The sound is warm and intimate with Dawson handling most of the instruments, although notable free jazz players Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), Frank Rosaly (drums) and Jason Roebke (bass) have cameos; Christiansen does vocals and Joel Patterson (Devil in a Woodpile, Kelly Hogan's Wooden Leg) plays pedal steel guitar.
Collectively, they tighten the emotional underpinnings of the songs, which range from blank-faced loss ("Temporary") to quiet rage ("The Guilty Will Pay"). Dawson and company know how to make even a haunting elegy ("Friend Like a Wheel") sound entrancing, despite a sinister lyric ("your good-time buddies are leaving on two legs ... while the pornographic cowgirl in your bed/is pulling all the gray hairs from your head").
The darkness and agitation that bubble just underneath Dawson's top-shelf melodies and easygoing voice is what has long distinguished his songwriting. Driven by strings and golden guitars, "Love is a Blessing" is his best nod yet to Al Green while "Sweet is the Anchor," a sensual pop melody, features harmony vocals shared by his wife. They are songs that wrestle with the demons in the others - "I'm the One I Despise," a country song plagued in self-doubt, and "Temporary," a song Dawson reports was influenced by the death of his mother in 2003 ("bang your head against the wall/and scan the screens for one last memory," he sings).
"You never really know where something is going to go," he said. "You can start with a seed of an idea and it makes a path of its own sometimes. The more I write I let things follow their own course. The impulse is that everything is temporary and life is temporary. I guess (the song) was reassuring me and others that that's OK."
Dawson, 36, was raised in Utah where he discovered his father's record collection when he was 12. His father, a wildlife illustrator whose work appears on postage stamps and in National Geographic, had everything from classic rock to jazz. (Dawson reports his own daughter is currently going through the same experience he did at the same age. "We caught her writing a song the other day and didn't want to say anything," he said.)
He moved to Chicago after attending Berklee School of Music in Boston. A friend told him Chicago's music scene was bearing fruit and provided musicians endless opportunities to play. "It was great advice," he said. Upon his arrival he met Christiansen, married and they formed Stump the Host, a country rock band that preceded Dolly Varden. In 1995 Dolly Varden released the first of four albums that would reflect both the hook-ready depth of Dawson's songwriting and the dynamic collaboration of all five players. From the beginning, the strength of their music drew the attention of major labels and the band was heavily courted. The process, however, led nowhere.
"It was always the same line. Either the head of marketing or the label president would say 'I don't know how we would market this - two singers and it sounds kind of like country and kind of like rock.' I decided I wasn't going to argue with those people," he said. "With every one of those (comments) I could have answered, 'Well what about Fleetwood Mac, what about Neil Young?' None of those people would get signed in the current market, I guess."
Dolly Varden remains a rare band in Chicago, or elsewhere, that can boast a track record of consistently strong albums and a live show packed with a level of musicianship and songs that don't reference their heroes from decades ago, they rival them. These days, they play to a devoted following in the Midwest and East Coast and also in Britain where they receive regular airplay on the BBC. Following the theft of their gear in Nashville, Tenn., and the subsequent release of their fourth album, Dawson said the band decided to take a break in 2003 so all five band members could concentrate on their respective families. They are currently recording a fifth album and expect to release it next year.
"It was a really good thing to take a step back," he said. "Everyone came back thinking that we're probably not going to get a major label deal and tour the world with Dolly Varden. The question was, 'Do we still want to do this?' The answer was a resounding 'yes.'"
Sweet Is The Anchor
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steve dawson Sweet Is The Anchor (Undertow) IT HAD never crossed my mind that Chicago’s Do...steve dawson
Sweet Is The Anchor
IT HAD never crossed my
mind that Chicago’s Dolly Varden is America’s answer to Squeeze until the release of this first solo album by front-
man Steve Dawson. So many of the songs - from the opening “Temporary” through the string-laden “Love Is A Blessing” and the reflectively resolute “The Guilty Will Pay” - had me conjuring cover versions by Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook.
No, the reedy-voiced Dawson isn’t as supple a singer as Tilbrook (perhaps the finest pure-pop vocalist ever), but Squeeze songs aren’t typically as adventurous or ambitious as Dawson’s. What they share are the melodic lilt, the bittersweet yearning, the occasional under-pinnings of ‘60s soul, and the seductive catchiness that insinuates itself within the listener’s ear and quickly takes full command of his brain waves.
Dawson wrote and sang almost all of Dolly Varden’s materiall, but he doesn’t attempt to duplicate the sound of a band here, instead treating the arrangements as aural experiments from a sonic laboratory, employing an array of effects with minimal outside support. The stripped-down approach calls all the more attention to the songs, and the songs are superb, from the self-laceration of “I’m The One I Despise”, combining a lyric that bites like Elvis Costello’s with a guitar that weeps like George Harrison’s, to the soulful affirmations of “I’ll Be Right Here”, to the Zen lullaby of “The Monkey Mind Is On The Prowl”.
Wife / bandmate Diane Christiansen
provides vocal harmony on two cuts and Joel Paterson supplies pedal steel on two others, providing a link between the solo project and the countrier strains of Dolly Varden (who have a new album in the works as well). Yet the strength of the songcraft collapses the distinction between alt-country and really smart pop. -don mcleese
Dawson Records His Own Kind Of House Music
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Dawson records his own kind of house music Andy Downing Published January 6, 2006 Steve Dawso...Dawson records his own kind of house music
Published January 6, 2006
Steve Dawson's first solo album, "Sweet Is the Anchor" (Undertow Music), was inspired by everything from his mother's death to right-wing talk-show host Sean Hannity. Over the course of a year, Dawson, the lead singer for Chicago mainstays Dolly Varden, molded these seemingly disparate influences into a surprisingly ambitious album of blue-eyed soul.
The singer, now in his mid-30s, says he wanted to record a solo record since high school. But a string of moderately successful bands (Stump the Host, Dolly Varden) got in the way. In late 2003, Varden decided to take some time off and Dawson finally had the opportunity.
He began recording in his Wicker Park apartment, working with songs both new ("The Guilty Will Pay") and old ("Ten Thousand Pounds," which dates to his '90s days with Stump the Host). Dawson spent 2004 experimenting; he found the drums sounded best in his cavernous living room, while most of the vocals were recorded in the couple's tile bathroom ("I tried the living room, but it had too much echo," he says).
Often he would take eight or nine passes on a track to find the right sound.
"Steve is really good at making musical decisions that are within the limitations of his recordings," says Matt Pence, who mixed the album at his Denton, Texas, studio last February. "He's persistent enough to say, `Well, I got a good vocal, but it doesn't sound right so I'm going to try it over here to see if it sounds better.'"
The resulting album sounds nothing like you'd expect from a home recording, having more in common with lush '70s soul records than the scratchy four-track recordings of the Mountain Goats and other like-minded artists. In fact, the stirring "Love Is A Blessing," with its haunting string section and Frank Rosaly's fatback snare drumming, swings like vintage Al Green, with Dawson's voice swooping and soaring over the backdrop.
Other times, the music is more personal, as on "Temporary," a meditation on life and death that Dawson wrote after his mother's death in 2003. The quietly seething "The Guilty Will Pay" even finds Dawson taking a stab at politics, questioning the intentions of moral-majority hardliners. Dawson tackled political issues after a German reporter asked why he never wrote political tunes. He found his target while listening to his car radio shortly thereafter.
"I was flipping through the AM stations and caught this Sean Hannity program. He has this theme song with this histrionic, anthemic woman singing and one of the lines in the song is `the guilty will pay,'" says Dawson. "It just seemed silly to me. Everyone is guilty of something."
Sweet Is The Anchor
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Dolly Varden frontman Steve Dawson's solo debut doesn't venture far from his DV material-rather, the...Dolly Varden frontman Steve Dawson's solo debut doesn't venture far from his DV material-rather, the purpose of Sweet Is the Anchor appears to be Dawson asserting his independence. In Dolly Varden, he and wife Diane Christiansen shared songwriting duties and backed up each other's vocal turns (Christiansen, in fact, appears twice: on the title track and on "Ten Thousand Pounds"). Yet, for some atmospheric studio bells and whistles, Dawson's songs and sound are consistent with DV: He maintains a balance of classy pop sensibility and singer-songwriterly expression, and the tunes themselves are expectedly candid and vivid. The record is smart, tuneful and enjoyable.
Sweet Is The Anchor - review
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"Steve Dawson recorded this album in just about every room of his house, he enlisted wife and Dolly ..."Steve Dawson recorded this album in just about every room of his house, he enlisted wife and Dolly Varden member Diane Christiansen to sing along. With multiracking and a host of excellent musicians Steve Dawson has made an exquisite blue-eyed soul record. The warmth and soul that oozes from the digital bits encoded on this cd keep me returning to it over and over again" --Craig Bonnell, Songs:Illinois
Sweet Is The Anchor - review
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“Steve Dawson is the singer and writer for Chicago-based Dolly Varden, who not only produced some of...“Steve Dawson is the singer and writer for Chicago-based Dolly Varden, who not only produced some of the finest music of the last decade, but managed the rare feat of getting better with each of their four albums. Driven by Dawson’s passionate and intensely soulful voice, allied to the dark poetry of his songs, they were and remain a joy both live and on album. The band are currently on an extended break, so Dawson has taken the opportunity to make his first solo record, and it feels like the record that he’s been striving towards all these years. It’s a soul album, a soul singer’s album par excellence, just oozing the stuff from every word, every note, every nuance. Dawson’s sublime vocals are absolutely glorious, whether letting it all hang out on “Love is a Blessing” (a song and performance worthy of Al Green at his finest) or subtlely sexual on the title track. He aches, he howls and he whispers with a grace and passion that cannot be denied. The country-folk- pop of Dolly Varden is still in evidence - wife and DV member Diane Christiansen contributes backing vocals on a couple of tracks – and the songs still have the edge and darkness that characterises his writing, notably on “I’m the one I despise” and the title track, but ultimately it’s the singing that this album is about. It’s music you can lose yourself in, as you luxuriate in the gorgeous vocals and bask in the arrangements. It’s a tired cliché to review an album in January and describe it as an album of the year contender, but nonetheless it’s hard to imagine that there will be a better singer’s album this year.” -Americana UK
Dolly Varden - "The Panic Bell"
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Within a couple tracks you know you're in the presence of a band at the height of their powers. This...Within a couple tracks you know you're in the presence of a band at the height of their powers. This is what Gram Parsons called Cosmic American Music, an incongruous melting pot of country, r 'n' b, gospel, and good ol' rock. The best practitioners, like Dolly Varden, transcend their influences to make ingredients we know taste fresh again. Their music has the inspired construction of The Raspberries, Bill Withers, The dBs and Nick Lowe. Irresistible melodies are bolstered by restrained pedal steel and constantly engaging studio twists. As good as "Everything" is, it's the stuttering old time radio-esque dénouement that sticks in your craw, just one of many perfect little touches. Floating above it all are Dawson and Christiansen's glorious voices. She's got Laura Nyro's tenderness mingled with Loretta's Lynn's grit. He's got Daryl Hall's blue-eyed soul and the compelling ache of Big Star's late Chris Bell. When you hear folks do it properly like this suddenly the competition seems even more wanting than usual. The Panic Bell is an addictive, enormously thoughtful pleasure. Like fellow lifers Centro-matic and The Smithereens, they remind us how potent and enjoyable the fruits of seasoned veterans can be.
Sweet Is The Anchor: Top DIY pick
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"Steve Dawson, better known as the frontman for the Chicago-based group Dolly Varden, is letting his..."Steve Dawson, better known as the frontman for the Chicago-based group Dolly Varden, is letting his soul shine in his latest solo release. The title track sees Dawson’s voice expertly navigating soaring heights as guitars and tambourines jangle listeners back to the 60’s. “Love is a Blessing” features a moody organ and a vibe that’s straight-up Marvin Gaye. Dawson has found the sweet spot between R&B and California pop, and the compelling combination will invite another listen, and another”
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