If you heard the Dawes song "Just Beneath the Surface" and said, "Somebody's been listening to their old Jackson Browne albums," you're not exactly insulting Dawes. The band has actually backed Browne on tour — and Browne has sung backup on at least one of its songs — so you could say that Dawes comes by its riffs and phrasing honestly. You could, that is, if you want to pigeonhole the group as a throwback to the Southern California soft-rock of the '70s, which would be a mistake. Why, in the very next track on the new Stories Don't End, Dawes sounds like East Coast '70s soft-rock, in the Steely Dan-ish "From a Window Seat."
I kid Dawes about its influences, because I like the way these guys carry those influences with their own good humor, and with a loose assurance that their distinctiveness will shine through. In the lovely "Stories Don't End," singer-songwriter-guitarist Taylor Goldsmith talks about the ineffectiveness of talk — how words cannot express all that he wants to say about the woman he's describing, the feelings he has for her. For that, he requires not only words, but also the slightly fuzzy timbre of his voice and the gentle drumming of his brother Griffin Goldsmith. He gets closer, in this way, to suggesting how complex a story one song can tell, because as the title reminds us, the stories of a relationship, once launched, don't end. We impose a narrative — a beginning, middle and end — upon them.
For Taylor Goldsmith, communication — connection — is always elusive. This album is loaded with lyrics about how people don't hear the sentiments beneath a conversation, how the person to whom Taylor Goldsmith most wants to express his affection is ignoring him, or is looking for love from someone else. A key line in "Most People" is, "Most people don't talk enough about how lucky they are." In "Someone Will," the music that surrounds his words is frequently spare, but it can rise up and around the verses to breathe additional life into the singer's fading romantic hopes.
Taylor Goldsmith is also a member of the part-time, semi-supergroup Middle Brother, whose debut album was in my Top 10 of 2011. That music was generally more rough, more intentionally unfinished, than the music Goldsmith makes with his own group. I admire bands that can capture not just big, universal emotions and ideas, but also little, specific, tricky ones. Dawes crafts songs about the shifts of mood and attitude between two people by approaching them from different angles; by doing the musical equivalent of sidling up to them and eavesdropping, and then transforming that found material into art. That's what Dawes manages on the frequent best moments of Stories Don't End.