Steve Dawson is Waiting for the Lights to Come Up


In regard to most successful musicians, a work ethic is practically immeasurable. Quality and quantity often interchange with critics and fans alike overemphasizing the latter and its “importance” toward an artist’s reputation. There are some artists like Scott Walker who release one album every ten years or so, maintaining a prolific status without showing any signs of selling out. Then there are other artists like Ryan Adams or the recently featured Miss Li who are seemingly able to release a few albums per year, keeping fans on their toes with a usual plethora of quality. The most important thing is that all of these artists succeed in captivating a targeted fan base; they just do so in different forms. As for finger-pickin’ Canadian native Steve Dawson, his releases tend to come in sporadic bursts. In any given year since going solo, Dawson can surprise by either releasing a handful of albums in one year or nothing at all. When he released his debut that year to gracious applause, he chose to do something rather unique in response. Instead of just dilly-dallying around, he released his last album, We Belong to the Gold Coast, just 4 months later in December. For those who have the nerve to call such a method a “rush job” before even giving either a single listen, the exceptional quality displayed in both releases speaks otherwise.

Showing consistency in the annual pattern of his releases, Dawson plans to make this new year an important one. He has two brand new albums on the way, both full-length releases set to be released later this year. This first one is entitled Waiting for the Lights to Come Up, while the second one is the more concisely named Telescope. Though he could have easily chosen to release one album per year since 2005, two per year for two years is appeasing enough. It just seems to be the way Dawson works – and with the sheer quality he has released in succession, there is absolutely no reason to complain. Growing up on an eclectic variety of jazz, soul, and pop/rock from the ’60s and ’70s, Dawson first took guitar lessons at the age at an early age. With plenty of acclaim set to come his way, I doubt Dawson has any regrets about going solo. His newest albums look to be a very enjoyable affair. Though I have only given one album (Waiting for the Lights to Come Up) out of the two this year a listen, it is looking good so far for Dawson.


Apart from his strong songwriting and melodic capabilities, if there is one aspect that separates Dawson from the majority of indie-folk songwriters, it is his talents on the guitar. He is an incredibly gifted steel guitar player, finger-picking rapidly and without hesitation while utilizing a fair share of lap steel techniques both on stage and in the studio. However, though his albums are a proficient display of his technical chops, it is his songwriting that truly impresses the most. His latest, Waiting for the Lights to Come Up, features the likes of Keith Lowe on bass, Chris Gestrin on keyboards, and Scott Amendola on drums. They are an especially talented group that has played with everyone from Fiona Apple to K-OS. “With musicians of this caliber, I knew that most of the magic would be happening quickly on early takes, even before the band was too comfortable with the new material,” Dawson said of the new album. Perhaps that explains the prompt release of two whole albums. “I thought it would be interesting to have [the two albums] both done in the same space at the same time, and by the same people,” Dawson explained. Well, whatever his method may have been, it certainly works on Waiting for the Lights to Come Up.

Though it is not the best display of his finger-picking or instrumental skills (check out “Fun Machine One”, “Swinging in a Hammock”, or “Fire Somewhere” for that), the smoothly layered “Room to Room” is demonstrative of Dawson’s best songwriting to date. Beginning with a simplistic acoustical melody that is shortly supplemented by an electric guitar and a strain of keys, the song evolves into a relaxingly uplifting track that – using decaying rooms as a proper metaphor – touches on romantic and sociological effects of fading relationships. The chorus is neither boisterous or dramatically transitioned, yet Dawson’s production skills allows the bridge and its proceeding verse to have a dramatically resounding effect that lingers throughout the country-led guitar solos that follow. “Oh, and I know that the problems are hard to see,” Dawson sings of the issues that unspoken conflicts can lead to, led profoundly by soaring vocals that manage to transition country, folk, blues, and rock in impressive fashion. “And they go on from here, but they always start with me,” he ends the song, with a glimmer of optimism peaking through the shimmering underlying guitar lines. A baritone guitar steals the show in the infectious “At Arms Length”, a very pleasing opener to an album that serves as both an outstanding display of Dawson’s instrumental and songwriting prowess. Whether you enjoy his take on vintage Hawaiian music on “Hard to Get Gertie” and the wildly impressive “Swinging in a Hammock” or prefer more direct attempts like the accessible “Room to Room”, Waiting for the Lights to Come Up is a diverse display of talent that manages to juggle several genres with ease. It is certainly the right way to kick 2008 off for Steve Dawson. We can only hope that Telescope is just as good.


Steve Dawson – Room to Room



Steve Dawson – At Arms Length



Steve Dawson – Fun Machine One



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Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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