I discovered Dawes at Ottawa Bluesfest during the summer of 2013. My wife and I attended to see She and Him, who was closing one of the side stages that evening. As is typically the case in the festival environment, you wander from stage to stage checking out the talent. That particular night, though, was a bust. Nothing was jumping out at us, so we decided to head to the side stage and wait for She and Him's set to begin. Thankfully we did because Dawes had just taken the stage. Dawes is a young band, but they played like seasoned veterans. The lyrics and melodies were infectious, the guitar work was inspired, and the rhythm section was incredibly tight. It was mind boggling. They were clearly a band with an old soul, though not necessary an old sound, which is probably why they've recently stood-in as the backing band for Jackson Browne, John Fogerty, and Conor Oberst. Dawes is fundamentally a four piece band consisting of Taylor Goldsmith on guitars and vocals, Griffin Goldsmith on drums, Wylie Gelber on bass, and Tay Strathairn on keys; although, following the release of their fourth album All Your Favorite Bands earlier this month, they added guitarist Duane Betts to their touring band (son of the legendary guitarist for The Allman Brothers Band, Dickey Betts). Judging from the live footage I've seen on YouTube, Betts is a welcomed addition to the lineup.
All Your Favorite Bands was being touted in the music press as Dawes' "most live sounding record", which is true in the sense that it captures the loose, fun atmosphere of a Dawes show. The band recorded the tracks together, live, in the studio and, to capture the feel of a live show, Goldsmith didn't plan his guitar solos. The songs were composed beforehand, with the sections for the solos left blank. The result is some truly masterful guitar work on tracks such as "Right On Time", "I Can't Think About It Now", and "Now That It's Too Late, Maria".
Unlike previous Dawes albums, All Your Favorite Bands flows very well from beginning to end. This is not to say that all the tracks sound the same. There is a brilliant ebb and flow to this record that makes it very difficult to turn off and, instead, begs for repeated listens...often in one sitting.
The album opens with "Things Happen", which aptly sets the tone for the record and puts Goldsmith's excellent songwriting on full display. Simple lyrics such as "I don't know what else you wanted me to say to you / things happen, that's all they ever do" are juxtaposed with gems like "I think I'll see Lily, see where she stands / I can't help how I feel I don't think anyone can / Sometimes we're lovers, sometimes we're friends / behold the magnetism between two dead ends".
That's right...this is a breakup album, but it doesn't feel like a tired, derivative set of breakup songs because Goldsmith takes us through the standard set of themes, such as memory and blame, with lyrical precision. In the first verse of “Things Happen", he sings:
What follows is an album that sees Goldsmith digging through memory, looking for answers.
While Goldsmith’s lyrics and impressive guitar chops are on full display throughout the record, the band matches him stroke for stroke. This is a superb rhythm section. Griffith Goldsmith's focused drumming propels each song forward, and he indulges in little flourishes from time to time to keep things interesting, without appearing to show off or take away from the song. Gelber and Strathairn adhere to a similar method with their approach to the bass and the keys. While they are clearly proficient musicians, and occasionally weave in interesting musical accoutrements that give their playing a unique character, they always serves the song first.
Despite being a breakup album, All Your Favorite Bands isn't a downer. There is a sense of optimism that pervades most songs. On "Somewhere Along the Way" Goldsmith loses his "lullaby personified" his "vision in the mist" due to her self destructive tendencies - "her only plan in life was getting lost...she took me to the edge and made me watch." Through the course of the song, Goldsmith finds solace by looking to the future, "somewhere along the way, I started to smile again, I don't remember when / Somewhere along the way, things will turn out just fine / I know it's true this time."
Yet true to life, there's not always a sliver lining. The chorus in "Don't Send Me Away" is heartbreaking. Goldsmith pleads, in perfect harmony with his bandmates, "Don't send me away, there's nowhere else I'm going to / Don't send me away, I know that what you want to do." The chorus changes throughout the track, but the refrain is the same. In the end, despite the distance and the loss, Goldsmith still can't let go, "I'm getting on the freeway, your jacket's in my car / your ash is in my ashtray, and I'm there with you wherever you are."
In "Waiting for Your Call", a sweet ballad with slowhand-esque guitar work, the difficulty letting go is also a central theme, as is the notion that there can be pleasure in pain:
Here, Goldsmith explores the idea that emptiness can be fulfilling. Living with the memory of the person, rather than the physical person, is better than nothing at all.
Bewildered by the sudden nature of the breakup, Goldsmith seeks to understand what went wrong in one of the standout tracks, “Right On Time”. He looks to his surroundings for answers, “the piano, the table, the bed that we both sleep in, these constant silent messengers”, and concludes that she “was right on time, and out of nowhere”. He doesn't realize, however, that the breakup came "out of nowhere" because he failed to see the warning signs.
In the bridge, Goldsmith uses a shooting to broach the subject of trauma. The physical trauma endured by being shot acts as a metaphor for the emotional trauma that he's been dealing with throughout the record:
It is only in relating the trauma to us, the listener, that Goldsmith begins to understand his situation and put the pieces together.
The closing track, “Now That It’s Too Late, Maria”, sees Goldsmith coming to terms with everything. He sings of “reliving the whole situation”, while sitting alone at a restaurant. In this moment, and better late than never, he “see(s) it all for what it was.” This epiphany gives way to acceptance and hope. He entertains the idea of “meet(ing) a girl who wants to change her name”, yet concedes that “there will always be a part of you (Maria) with me”. The record then comes full circle with the closing lyrics, “There is no one here to blame.” Sometime things happen.
All Your Favourite Bands is a beautiful record about love and loss and the trauma left in the wake of a breakup. This is not a dour album, though; it’s quite the opposite. When it comes to lost love, you can never truly let go. You may lose a part of yourself, and it will hurt, but you can honour the loss by mourning it and reliving the moments that led there, before putting them behind you and moving forward.
Grade = 10 of 10
What are your thoughts? Do you love the album? Do you hate it? Add to the discussion in the comments below.