2013’s Best Americana Album: Dawes’ “Stories Don’t End”
Having two kids in two years can cause even a tenacious music fan to lose complete track of what’s new out there. Case in point: I didn’t hear of the spectacular Los Angeles quartet Dawes until I caught their September set at Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Music & Food Festival in Nashville. They opened with “Most People,” a crisply jammy (oxymoron? Not with Dawes) genre-jumper that revealed the band to “sound like a cross between Hall & Oates, CSNY, Jackson Browne and Talking Heads dipped in a double dollop of Phish and Dire Straits,” as I wrote at the time. Given the benefit of a night’s sleep and rumination, I returned amend my observation like so: “If you were to synthesize Dawes into a supergroup, it’d be Browne on vocals, Crosby and Nash on harmonies, John Fishman on drums, Phil Lesh on bass, Mark Knopfler on guitar, and Garth Hudson on keys.”
Since late September, I’ve listened to a ton of Dawes–and little else. I’ve purchased all their albums, and in so doing, wish to further amend my list of influences to include: The Moondoggies, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Warren Zevon, The Kinks, Steely Dan and Ron Sexsmith. And yet Dawes, which is fronted by brothers Taylor (guitar, lead vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums, backing vocals), is the opposite of derivative.
Dawes does not fit neatly into the Americana box. But Americana’s box shouldn’t be neat, and Dawes so purely and effortlessly evokes the nostalgic spirit of that term–“Americana”–that one might argue they actually epitomize it. (For those seeking bona fides, however, Dawes spent some time on the road in 2013 with Jason Isbell.) Los Angeles might be an ungrounded place, but the converse effect of such rootlessness is openness, and Dawes seems infinitely capable of taking its influences and doing them far prouder.
Nowhere is this unique ability more evident than on their 2013 LP Stories Don’t End, which, for my money, is the year’s best Americana album–or simply its best album, irrespective of genre. Lyrically, the band is alternately humorous (“Hey Lover”), melancholic (“Just My Luck”) and deeply profound (the brilliant “Side Effects,” which serves as the album’s climax)–like Browne or Zevon, who often teamed up in their ’70s L.A. heyday. Stories Don’t End is a perfectly paced, rangy record that takes its listener on a long, memorable roller coaster ride through nocturnal Los Angeles. It’s a night you want to immediately relive. And, thanks to the ability to simply hit “Play” again, you can–over and over.