Interviews Album Reviews

Album Review and Interview: The Dawes - Good Luck With Whatever (Rounder)

Roger Bowie

The Dawes (pronounced Doz) release their 7th album tomorrow October 2nd on Rounder Records, their first on the label after self-releasing for the last few albums, and it’s a typically beautiful, tight, rocky collection of Taylor Goldsmith songs arranged and delivered with polish and finesse by the band whose current lineup has been together now for 5 or so years and are on the verge of maturity.

At least that’s what the songs all say, as Taylor thinks about what he will do and what he will be if he ever grows up, still feeling like a kid, and the youngest person of his age.

I caught up with Taylor a couple of weeks ago stuck inside in LA while the fires burned in the hills around him, adding strength and tangible substance to Covid’s invisible urge to self-isolate. You might call it a double whammy.

Anyway, we start our conversation with the conundrum of elocution and how to distinguish today’s Dawes from yesterdays Doors. Well it turns out to be quite simple if you speak American English, but we English English speakers don’t seem to have the ability to nuance our tongues, just as we say pawn and porn the same way. Perhaps we are just lazy, but the serious matter is that it has been a problem for the Dawes not to be thought of as a covers band, to those not initiated to their most un-Doors like sound.

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I was initiated to the Dawes back in 2015 when they came here and were supported by The Bads, who told me I had to go see this shit hot band from LA. They had this tall long haired dude on guitar, who stood a little apart from the band, but played these beautiful guitar licks which sounded vaguely familiar. And then Taylor introduced Duane Betts, and I knew I was in the presence of rock royalty. (check out the Allman Betts Band, featuring three sons of the original Allman Brothers). Anyway Duane was touring with the Dawes that year to help them out, and the sound checks regularly morphed into Allman jams. But that summer the latest Dawes release All Your Favorite Bands became the family favourite and they have been at the top of my “to buy” list ever since. We’re All Gonna Die came next and then 2018’s Passwords.

The new album is called Good Luck With Whatever and there’s a song which is the second track which has a nice double meaning oscillating from sincerity to cynicism, but is just a typical Dawes rock song and a song written to allow the listener to interpret either way. That’s the art of the song.

Good Luck With Whatever  is out on Rounder Records, and the shift back to a label happened because of a special relationship with Rounders new head as well as a feeling that it was time to let a few more people into the room. Like producer Dave Cobb, a Nashville celebrity who operates out of the legendary Studio A, which settles the question for me that the Dawes are an Americana band. And Taylor is fine with that, because being recognised as an Americana band is better than being identified with a more narrower genre definition, and also allows them the freedom to extend the boundaries of the broad church which Americana is.

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The album’s predominant theme is about staying young while growing old. The universal dilemma which getting older brings to a perspective on life. I “Still Feel Like Kid” even though I don’t look like one. 20 years ago The Dawes just wanted to tour, such a rock n roll thing to do for young men. Now they have to tour, and Taylor’s just got married, and family looms, and he’s figured out how the Nasdaq works, and he’s no longer paying rent to his parents; it’s not the same. Even though he still feels like the youngest guy of his age.

And trying to get to grips with this crisis of post adolescence, seeing a therapist, doing volunteer work, practicing empathy, getting recognised by his peers, finding his true love who loves him ugly, it "Didn’t Fix Me” at least not the way he thought it would. But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending to all this angst, which is essentially a question to self as to why, at 35 years old, he is in a band and a profession which still nurtures his 16 year old self. Is that ok?

At this point I digress, complaining about how hard it is to get advance copies of albums these days, having only heard three tracks by the time we get to talk. But those three tracks are great, two rockers, “Who Do You Think You’re Talking To”, a conversation between two friends in a bar about something in the past which his friend can’t shake off; the aforementioned “Good Luck With Whatever” and the standout  track for me:  “St Augustine At Night”. Not just because it’s a great song, but because it reminds me of the standout track from 2018’s Passwords, which for me was the song of that year, “Crack the Case”. I’m featuring it here because it’s just a beautiful song, with succinct statements about, put simply, empathy, and Taylor explains how the song became his political statement in the Trump era in which he deliberately tries to suppress his angst and his anger in favour of encouraging dialogue. Appealing to the essence of humanity in us all. A way forward. Deliverance through dichotomy. Serenity through the dialectic of synthesis. It’s just a beautiful song.

And St Augustine is also a place of serenity. It’s in Florida, and is the oldest city in America, and it’s his spiritual home, in contrast to his big city life in LA. Especially at night. And it too, is a beautiful song.

We talk about the band (Taylor Goldsmith on guitar and vocals, Griffin Goldsmith  on drums, Wylie Gelber on bass and Lee Pardini on keyboards) and stability in the band, and what that means to him as a songwriter. And it means a lot, it means that the band has worked hard and continues to work hard at developing consensus, a sense of family, a visceral pleasure in each other’s company, and joy when they play together. They want to be a band that releases not just 7 albums, but 15 or 20. Which is music to my ears because it means one of my favorite bands will stay together.

Sounds, I venture, like maturity? In a good way. Have I cracked the case? Is that what this is all about?

Well maybe it is, even though it’s “None of My Business” ( just joking) , because if you look “Between the Zero and the One”, the reason Taylor is still a singer in a rock n roll band is because he still feels like a kid. Yet even though they are not as young as they used to be “Especially Me”, they can still find themselves as “Free as We Wanna Be”.

Problem solved. Because now they get to play with Phil Lesh and cover Grateful Dead songs, while grateful to be 35 and 16 at the same time. (Although of course I don’t want to spoil Taylor’s party by reminding him that this issue of getting older is only going to get worse before it never gets better).

Good Luck With Whatever is out tomorrow on Rounder Records. It’s quintessentially Dawes, it may be their best yet, it depends on who you think you’re talking to, but check it out, it won’t disappoint.

Available on streaming platforms HERE

Written By: Roger Bowie Roger Bowie has been collecting music since 1964, starting with 45 rpm singles, and then building an LP and CD collection from 1970. 1.8 per week since then. Not a vast collection, but eclectic and occasionally obscure. Roger is a big Americana fan, and regularly attends AmericanaFest in Nashville, held every September. Also, he once played golf with Alice Cooper...