When following a new band or artist from the start, the thing one looks for as a fan and listener is progress and change, and it is always a pleasure when a band takes a huge step forward with a new record. This is exactly how I feel about Dawes’ second LP Nothing Is Wrong which follows their 2009 debut North Hills. North Hills was an accomplished and enjoyable first taste of the band, but it is far eclipsed by the band’s new outing.
Nothing Is Wrong easily settles into its groove from the first cut and maintains it to the finish. The band expand on the Flying Burrito Brothers and The Band-influenced sound that carried North Hills with a more assured sound that moves between country rock and more muscular rock without feeling disconnected. When a band is as indebted to their surroundings and their predecessors there is always the danger of the music sounding too similar or too retro, thus losing its uniqueness and personality. But, Nothing Is Wrong manages the difficult trick of proudly displaying its 60s-70s country rock and 70s singer-songwriter influences, while sounding unique and contemporary.
Beyond the band’s development as musicians and the excellent production, the growth and increasingly personal nature of Taylor Goldsmith’s songwriting is what makes Nothing Is Wrong the success it is. Perhaps working with Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Delta Spirit’s Matthew Vasquez in Middle Brother, or helping former The Band songwriter/guitarist Robbie Robertson with his latest solo album has helped Goldsmith sharpen and focus his songwriting, or perhaps it’s simply the added experience of two years as a touring musician. Many of the songs explore themes of displacement and insecurity, which along with the consistently high quality of the writing helps make the album a cohesive whole. Goldsmith taps into the universality of these emotions while avoiding the “life on the road sucks” clichés that often sink such observations from lesser talents. The distinctiveness of the songwriting helps Dawes stand out among the current group of new bands in the folk rock/americana genre, coupled with an easily recognizable lead vocalist and a classic Laurel Canyon sound.
The album is full of beautiful little touches, often in the background, that makes the record much more than it could’ve been, such as the organ on album opener “Time Spent In Los Angeles” or the Springsteen-esque piano intro on closer “Little Bit Of Everything.” Vocalist Taylor Goldsmith shines throughout the record and returning producer Jonathan Wilson delivers a warm and crisp sound, which brings the songs and vocals to the front without pushing aside or diminishing the music.
I’ll end this review as I began it, with the band’s progress from a good first record to a great second one with the band moving forward both with the writing and performance. Nothing Is Wrong sees the band not only avoiding the often-discussed sophomore slump, and rising to the challenge and delivering a far more accomplished record than their first; one that should make the band into one of the biggest and most respected in the current americana/folk rock community.