There are many Americana music flavors, whether you realize it or not. For instance, there are oodles of bands that gravitate toward old time country music, with an obvious love for the likes of George Jones and Merle Haggard. Then there are groups like Dawes, which — though absolutely rootsy, no doubt about it — runs on an altogether different track. This band seems to be quite enamored with The Band. (Not that that’s a band thing, mind you.)
North Hills opens with one titled “That Western Skyline,” which prominently features cool, in-the-pocket Levon Helm drumming and gentle Richard Manuel organ coloring. It’s not only a song that hearkens back to a bright spot in rock music history, The Band’s heyday, but it also features a sad, sincere lyric and vocal. The character in this song describes a man that loves a girl whose dad is a preacher. You get the impression he learned all the many church hymns by heart — which he admits to in one verse — merely to stay close to his beloved by accompanying her at church. But rather than leading to any match made in heaven, he admits: “My dreams did not come true/ No, they only fell apart.” Something tells me he burned those bulletins in a bonfire, too.
No matter how many songs, books and movies have been created to explore love, Dawes confesses to being no closer to fully comprehending it at all. When they sing, “Love is not convenient/ It does not cease at your command” during “Love Is All I Am,” you realize what a deceptive little beast this crazy little thing we call romance can be. And while love is not something we can ever scientifically categorize, it’s all we’ve got and the best we can be. (Lucky us, eh?) The chorus simple states, “Love is all I am.” Yet if love is all we are, then aren’t we also incomprehensible as well? Dawes doesn’t even attempt to answer that one, but the query is nevertheless suggested to the listener. You can go figure it out on your own, if you like.
“When You Call My Name” is perhaps this release’s best song. With its upbeat, twangy guitar part, the lyric talks about how, over all the many distractions in life, lovers always catch it when their partner calls out their name. (Sure, this also can be said about a man and his dog, but let’s not go there.) ”Give Me Time” is another clear album highlight because of its tight vocal harmonies, which rank right up there with The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo era. Because of its acoustic guitar and mandolin instrumentation, it sounds like it could have come from five or 50 years ago. It’s just that timeless.
Dawes was birthed out of the ashes of Simon Dawes, a Los Angeles power-pop band. But you’d never know they had power-pop roots from listening to North Hills. It doesn’t sound as though this particular unit has ever even heard The Knack’s “My Sharona”. It’s crazy that such traditional music can even come out of Los Angeles, the land of TMZ and plastic surgery disasters. It’s a town built upon dying roots, not celebrating them after all. Yet Dawes is beautifully oblivious to the fake plastic tree people that comprise their fellow citizens. Where ever this North Hills hideaway is, it sure sounds like the place to be for those in search of a quality music retreat.