At The Bottom Of A Canyon In The Branches Of A Tree
Steve Dawson gave me a flashback when I put on his new album. The sound of electric piano and acoustic guitars took me back to the folk pop that was popular in the 1970’s. Superficially, the opening track “This is All There Is” reminds me of Seals and Croft, America and Poco. Not that the Chicago-based singer songwriter is reveling in the feel good optimism of those days. If anything, Dawson is part of the lineage that gave us Warren Zevon. The first words Steve sings are “It’s not going to be all right. So what are you gonna to do about it?”
Dawson has been kicking around since the 1990’s when he formed Dolly Varden with his wife Diane Christiansen. In 2020, Dawson was given an Esteemed Artist Award from the city of Chicago, which came with a $10,000 grant, which helped fund At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree. Aside from Alton Smith on piano for two songs, Michel Miles contributing banjo on another and Diane Christiansen’s vocals on “We Are Walking in a Forest,” Dawson plays all the instruments and layers in all the vocal harmonies.
Dawson’s songs are lushly produced, making the bleak lyrical content less jarring. “Hard Time Friend” finds Steve giving thanks for that friend who’s still there when everything goes south. “I Will Never Stop Being Sorry” is a confession. It’s about not being able to forgive yourself when everyone else has. At the Bottom of a Canyon isn’t all beautifully crafted gloom. “Time to Remember” is upbeat with a memorable organ riff. The poppiest tune, “22 Rubber Bands” has a swinging funkiness similar to what Portugal, the Man have been up to lately. The entire record deserves close listening. Dawson has interesting things to say and a fascinating way expressing it in song.