Album Review: I Will Miss the Trumpets and the Drums by Steve Dawson

Back in the 1980s, many cheered the demolition of disco records, danced to the first simple beats of a glamorous new breed of rock initiated by a one-armed drummer, and embraced the raw energy of the golden age of hip-hop. Many were all too willing to let the sappy soft rock classics of the 1970s like Randy Van Warmer’s Just When I Needed You Most and Robert John’s Sad Eyes get bulldozed into obscurity like the faded memories of high school breakups. Still, some of us maintain that something important was lost, that being heartfelt and contemplative didn’t always have to equate with being sappy, and that if we mined record bins and internet rooms long enough we might uncover one last unreleased track by Jackson Brown or Fleetwood Mac from back when they were actually good. While somewhat more recent breakouts like Ben Folds Five prove that there’s still a place for real sentimentality and vulnerability in music, it still seems all too rare.

Whether or not Steve Dawson’s second solo album, I Will Miss the Trumpets and the Drums, is timely enough to fill a role as a "breakup album" in your life, there’s a lot to savor not just in the conversational sentimentality of the lyrics but in the low-key musicianship. Validating Dawson’s longtime role as a songwriting teacher at the Old Town of Folk Music, this album showcases his instrumental versatility (he sings and plays guitar, bass, drums, and piano) and mastery of the songwriting craft. The track Tonight She Found the Way to Break My Heart is particularly effective in highlighting his bluesy, soulful, and beautifully controlled vocal chops. The opening track, Obsidian, a meticulously crafted work, introduces instruments one at time- first an acoustic guitar duet pairing harmonized thirds with a gentle lead, then a soft electric guitar and organ, and then a soft drum beat, then a vocal harmony, gradually building to a catchy hook, "C’mon now, obsidian/Soften your skin, let the change begin."

Still, the hooks of perfectly crafted songs such as Obsidian and Conversation with No One can become double-edged swords - the same elements that make a song feel familiar and catchy on the very first listen can make that song feel tedious or overplayed over time. If you’re more patient, the enduring gems of this album come later in the record, and they shine not because they’re in any way raw but because the arrangements are so patient and subtle. Dawson brings in an exceptional supporting cast, including Joel Paterson on pedal steel, Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone and Frank Rosaly on drums, amongst others who on any given night of the week can be found leading their own acts at places such as The Green Mill, Skylark, Hungry Brain, and Smoke Daddy. Here the jazz chops of the supporting cast are tastefully restrained to create a complex emotional precision on songs such as the haunting Mastodons, a lyrical masterpiece that bears the weight of a lifelong search for love: "The rush of gravity beams/The smell of the river after it rains/The feel of your feet touching the earth/The chance that love will someday return." Other highlights include the sweet and bluesy Worry Worry Worry, a soothing and natural tune featuring a meowing lap pedal, and It’s Not What You Think, a powerful and wistful track saved for the album’s close. While the supporting cast is kept to the background as a canvas for Dawson’s voice, standout tracks like Long Overdue, a fingerstyle gem recalling the melodic harmonies of Crosby Stills and Nash, and I Wish That I Could Believe in You Again, a Zulu style (think Ladysmith Black Mambazo) acapella - are performed by Steve Dawson alone.

If you have a short attention span, you’ll probably find some individual tracks to download. But this is a musically and lyrically deep album. Lines such as "I will miss the reassuring kicks in the back on my head" in I will Miss the Trumpets and the Drums and "Now the cardboard case I was carrying/Bursts right into flames in your front yard/Trying to outrun all the hollering/I didn’t get too far" in Know Now will ensure that this album, unlike Leo Sayer’s hairstyle , will retain its appeal for a long time to come.

Steve Dawson will be playing a free show at Simon's, a neighborhood bar in Andersonville. With music coordinated by the same booking manager as the Green Mill, Simon's has quietly become one of the city's best music venues.

Steve Dawson
Sunday, April 11
9 pm
5210 N. Clark


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