In his invaluable Alternative Country guidebook, ‘Modern Twang’, Dave Goodman describes the Roots Rock of the group Dolly Varden as ”generally Prosacian” and that band’s singer songwriter’s solo album follows a similarly downbeat trail.
The release follows a period of soul searching during which Dawson quit writing and performing altogether. His self-doubt and despondency was not helped by the recent deaths of his mother- and father-in-law.
A journey to the Catskills Mountains for guitarist Richard Thompson’s summer songwriting camp, hosted by Patty Griffin, helped recharge his batteries and restore the faith in his abilities: “It reminded me of why I started doing it in the first place when I was a teenager,” he said.
He allowed himself the freedom to follow his instincts, playing all the instruments, singing, producing in his home studio in Chicago. As he sings in Forgiveness Is Nothing Like I Thought It Would Be there was “no sunrise epiphany” but he did experience the catharsis of letting go and moving on.
Dawson’s influences draw upon the folk-rock of California, where he was born; the country music of Idaho, where he grew up; and the blues, gospel and soul of Chicago, where he has spent most of his adult life.
The overall mood of the album is gentle, restrained and introspective with more questions than answers. This is particularly evident in Beautiful Mathematics in which he vows to continue working and seeking; “I wanna feel so deeply I drown.”
I Will Never Stop Being Sorry suggests that he will never entirely shed the ghosts of dark memories and the sense of guilt he feels but his melancholia is turned into a melody rich set of tunes that offers a mellow, rather than mournful, listening experience.
The two songs that close the record, We Are Walking In A Forest, a duet with Dolly Varden’s Diane Christiansen, and the title track illustrate that kinship with the natural world helps provide some much needed solace.
Steve Dawson’s website