Dawson Rutledge And His Beautiful Monsters

Photo by Shervin Lainnez

If you were a music exec, even in today’s segmented, confused and diffuse business, you’d still probably want to roll the dice and sign Dawson Rutledge. He’s young, hip, telegenic and, oh, by the way, a really good songwriter. He’s pretty much perfect, as far as packages go. And since he’s only 19, suffice it to say, he’s only going to get better. But for now, he’s just released his solo debut, Monsters. Which one imagines is going to put this young Canadian on the world map.

Although, still technically a kid, he’s also something of a vet, having crammed a full-blown apprenticeship into three heady years.

“When I was sixteen, and in high school, I had this great teacher who created a full-blown recording studio,” says the young man from Cranbrook, British Columbia. “In this course we learned a lot about music and musical composition. By the end of the semester, everyone in the class had to write and record an original song. I loved the class so much, I actually took it for two semesters. I was hooked.”       

These tender years were a period of great growth for Dawson, who also got serious about his guitar playing, listened to songwriters from fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot to American Hip Hop, got his heart broken and subsequently, in a span of six months, “wrote somewhere between fifteen-to-twenty songs.” Ever the prodigy, he then recorded an e.p. of four of these tunes. He also played a number of Roots festivals where he hung out with and was mentored by Austin musician Shakey Graves. In other words, the teen packed a lifetime of woodshedding into a couple of years.

Things shifted into high gear, however, after Rutledge met record exec, Geordie Gillespie, who also helped him polish up his act and got him booked at some more big shows. If that wasn’t enough, the teenager in love (with music) capped off this period of hyper creativity with Monsters, his proper, full-length debut. It’s so ambitious, it could only come from one so young. But its polish and control seems like it could only come from someone much older. At least, you know, 21!

“Despite all the people I grew up listening to,” says Rutledge, “the thing I may be proudest about is that I don’t sound like I’m aping anyone on Monsters. The guy I think I do sound a lot like is me.”

He’s right.

There’s a rustic, organic acoustic feel to the disc, that has a warm ‘70s Woodstock vibe to it. But it’s Rutledge’s voice and lyrics that will pull you in. Take the opener, “Thief Of A Lover.” “You lost your tongue and your mouth in an icy stream,” sings the kid who has the flow of a great rapper and the elasticity of cool jazz singer. The tune “When Life Gives You Monsters” has a subtle rhythmic groove, with Rutledge phrasing in a sort of Caribbean patois and spitting out smart lines like, “Our two track minds have been tugging on each other/It seems no good to be staying desperate lovers.” “Heavy Heart” sports a hooky, chilly keyboard riff and dark lyrics about another love affair that is clearly not working out. One of the trademarks of this startling debut is how conceptually strong the album is. Lyrics, music, vocals and arrangements all seem wonderfully consistent throughout the record and each songs adds to a powerful feeling of romantic despair. In this way, Monsters is not unlike Morrison’s masterpiece Astral Weeks. One song slides effortlessly into the next, foreshadowing what’s to come, reflecting what has come before.

To promote the record Rutledge has plans to play in both his native Canada and his emerging home, The United States, both solo and with accompanying musicians.

“I have some friends from back home, one who plays the bass, the other who drums, who really want to gig with me,” says the budding star. “Maybe, I’ll work it so I can do a solo acoustic set and then, with luck, bring out a band to do a louder, more uptempo thing. One thing for sure, I’m ready to play. I’ve already done a pizza place in New Jersey in addition to the two festivals I’ve played. It’s not that fancy. But that’s kind of the point. When you love music, you’re happy to play anywhere, you know?”