Stories Don’t End, the last album from the California country-rock band Dawes, was boring. Dawes have never exactly been edgy; they make So-Cal folk music with a pinch of guitar solos, and they’d have fit right in among their Cali rock predecessors, the Eagles and Jackson Browne, only they’d be wondering why everyone was sucking powdered sugar up their noses. If Dawes come off a bit square, it’s probably because the Laurel Canyon they come from is a much squarer Laurel Canyon than the one that produced the drug-fueled romance between Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash.
The music industry in general is much squarer than it was. The stories of excess we tend to hear nowadays hail from the worlds of hip-hop and pop not country or folk, and they almost never involve hardcore drugs or the levels of debauchery that rock and roll took for granted in the ‘70s. No, the music business is a professional business now, and Dawes is a band of professionals. But professionalism is inherently boring if it’s not accompanied by some sort of passion. So while Stories Don’t End was a very professional, well-produced record, it was also very boring.
All Your Favorite Bands is anything but boring. Maybe we could attribute this to the end of a relationship; I’ve read rumors that lead singer Taylor Goldsmith recently endured a rough breakup, but I can’t track down any details. It certainly has the feel of a breakup album, with its more raw and intense sound. Maybe we could attribute their newfound passion to working with the great Dave Rawlings, who produced the album in Nashville. Rawlings does have the tendency to bring out the best in his collaborators. Or maybe the band as a whole evaluated their sound and made the simple business decision to make a better record.
Whatever it was, Dawes has never sounded better. While past albums have sounded confined, All Your Favorite Bands sounds like each song was recorded live without any overdubbing. And where recent records have meandered from song to song without purpose as if the band was content to coast on positivity, on All Your Favorite Bands Dawes appears to be dealing with the negative things that happen to us in this world. Album opener “Things Happen” finds Goldsmith telling a friend (or himself, perhaps) that sometimes there just aren’t any answers. The title track covers the end of some kind of a relationship, when Goldsmith tells the listener “I hope the world sees the same person you’ve always been to me / And may all your favorite bands stay together” in the hopes that the person leaving him can hold on to some semblance of their childhood hopes. “Now That’s It’s Too Late, Maria”, the ninth and final song on the album, is a 10-minute epic of regret and heartache, wherein Goldsmith ultimately confronts the truth that he can’t blame anyone, even himself.
What seals the deal for me that All Your Favorite Bands is Dawes’s best album yet is that the band finally sounds like they’ve got an edge. I don’t need them to be Slayer or anything, but the bands from Laurel Canyon folk’s heyday that made lasting impressions, like the Eagles or Buffalo Springfield, never settled for sunny, simpering positivity. They found the storm cloud and rode it into the sun. Dawes had that on their debut, but they lost it afterwards, even while they were still creating good music. They found their edge again on All Your Favorite Bands, and they’ve made the most of it.