If this were the 1970s, Dawes would be absolute zillionaires.
In many ways, Dawes is a band of perfection. They never miss a note, they’re never off beat and they seem to effortlessly produce songs that sound like they’ve always existed, with nary an instance out of place. They are songwriters in the most traditional, professional sense and very few do it better. That’s why they’ve been hired guns for the likes of Robbie Robertson, John Fogerty, and of course, Jackson Browne, with whom, rightly or wrongly, they are most often compared. Possessing studio musician skill but having tunes of their own, Dawes harken back to the era of all of those performers, when songs were sacred and produced with factory-like precision. With their fourth release, All Your Favorite Bands, cut during a busy year that included backing Conor Oberst and frontman Taylor Goldsmith’s involvement with T-Bone Burnett’s New Basement Tapes project, they’ve assembled their most complete and soulful work.
Dawes is one of the few bands you don’t want to try something too new. The ringing harmonics and flange of Goldsmith’s guitar that kicks off “Things Happen,” and the record, make it feel like something different is about to happen, but by the time they get to the chorus, the multi-part harmonies are distinctly Dawes. Still, this is very clearly an evolution for the better. More raw and live sounding than anything they’ve done previously, All Your Favorite Bands finds Dawes delivering their saddest, most morose group of tracks. Their warm tone is ever-present, as is Goldsmith’s ability to turn common phrases and sayings into titles, themes and lyrics, but their sound here is thicker, and they stretch out like never before.
Though Dawes has always been able to assemble a song and they’ve never been without chops, All Your Favorite Bands marks its greatest intersection of both of those abilities. “Waiting For Your Call” is a slow burn of sorrowful pleading and blues-y soul fills that Goldsmith’s new buddy Elvis Costello could have written, while a mournful solo above Tay Strathairn’s rising organ offers the record’s first or many instances of Goldsmith letting loose (also see the extended, soaring lead during “I Can’t Think About It Now”). The title track, above gospel-y piano and sharply strummed open chords, finds Goldsmith reminiscing about an old flame and youthful nostalgia. The record’s very clear centerpiece, however, is the 9+ minutes of “Now That it’s Too Late, Maria.” Delivered at a crawling tempo, with Goldsmith’s voice exhausted from heartbreak, it’s a retrospect for after the fog clears, when you can look back at a relationship and see that the writing was always on the wall, and it’s time to move on. Goldsmith adds traces of Blonde on Blonde, along with Eagles harmonies and a mournful solo – his first of two during the song – that is easily one of the finer guitar moments on record this year.
Even as Dawes build up their sound, they still manage to hit their sweet spots. “Somewhere Along the Way” pinpoints that moment when things turned left instead of right, dissipating dreams. Goldsmith’s tumbleweed guitar is accompanied by a huge, soaring chorus, and he delivers yet another gorgeous, soulful solo. With big electric guitars, crunching-yet-subtle riffs, multi-part harmonies and a monster chorus, “Right on Time” is probably the most classic Dawes song here, and clearly illustrates the band’s restraint. No one has a clearer understanding of the space available in a measure and the band doesn’t ever play unless the moment absolutely calls for it.
If this were the 1970s, Dawes would be absolute zillionaires. Their songs would soundtrack a lifestyle, and, they wouldn’t just be in demand by like-minded artists, they’d be all over the radio. Bands like them, at least with their level of ability and consistency, simply don’t exist anymore. Still, as music becomes more electronic and processed, it’s refreshing to hear four guys make music together in the most straightforward, organic way, without any gimmicks or studio tricks. Their only imperfection seems to be the fact that they came around at the wrong time, but it doesn’t seem to be affecting them one bit.