Steve Dawson/At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree/Pravda
Four out of Five Stars
Chicago singer/songwriter Steve Dawson has never been reticent when it comes to baring his influences, nor to share his sentiments. His work encompasses two bands—Dolly Varden and Funeral Bonsai Wedding—but its his solo pedigree that continues to spotlight his artistry to the fullest effect. Consequently, it’s little surprise that At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree ranks as his most expressive effort yet, especially given the fact that it reflects a series of tragedies and traumas he suffered seemingly simultaneously all at once. In 2017, he lost his mother and father-in-law, a double blow that rekindled some serious issues he was forced to deal with in the past—namely, the death of his own mother and his abandonment by his father. Overwhelmed with despair and disillusionment, he stopped writing songs and withdrew from performing as well.
Happily then, the new album finds him recommitting to his craft and reconnecting with his muse. The process seemed to be a way for him to exorcise his demons and finding some peace by sharing his songs. His creativity was further fueled by his decision to play practically all the instruments on the album, a bold venture to be sure, but one that underscores the intimacy within each of these offerings. It wasn’t his sole focus; last year’s album with Funeral Bonsai Wedding, Last Flight Out, also evolved at the same time, but At the Bottom of a Canyon in the Branches of a Tree is the one that fully delineates Dawson’s apparent state of mind and his efforts to find some sort of salvation in the midst of his calamity and distress.
Not surprisingly, it’s a sobering set of songs, one consumed by reflection and remorse. “Forgiveness Is Nothing Like I Thought It Would Be” is the most obvious attempt at reconciliation, but so too “The Spaces In Between,” “I Will Never Stop Being Sorry,“ “Time To Remember,” and “However Long It Takes” are particularly poignant, bridging a narrow divide between depression and desire. He delves even deeper into his subliminal psyche on the track “Beautiful Mathematics,” expressing fear and frustration in equal measure:
Again I’ve been tricked / And my heart’s been made sick / By someone who shines on the surface / When will I learn / To trust my own skin / When it tells me I must keep my distance
I wanna know…
Like many musicians, Dawson opts to vet his feelings by making music, as opposed to simply sitting with a psychiatrist. Given the tough topics he fearlessly tackles head-on, and the soothing and sublime melodies shared along the way, there’s a real possibility he’ll find a way to resolve his struggles.