steve dawson's latest

I had the pleasure of contributing a small bit of harmony singing to my friend Steve's latest project, Funeral Bonsai Wedding, a couple months back; the record is released the 30th of this month. Somewhat in advance of that date -- this Friday -- Steve and the jazz players who accompany his songs on the record are doing a promotional show at the Constellation (3111 N. Western in Chicago), and I'll be there to reprise my small bit. If you were on hand for my quartet show at the Pritzger Pavilion last June, where Steve played first with the Funeral gang, then you heard what this is about -- poetic songwriter songs interpreted by high-tech colorists imported from beyond the rock realm, with vibraphone prominent. The effect is a little as though a comfortable old blanket were sent into a washer's spin cycle alongside a bunch of dayglo-bright pocket squares. You get sounds you know, but mixed up in unexpected ways, and the familiar shape of a chromatically composed lyric song, but blurred and fragmented, challenged and teased. Jason Adasiewicz, the mind-blowing vibes man, alters motifs and changes with angular improvisations, rude clangs, and glancing, accidental-sounding flat-ninths and raised fours. Jason Roebke sometimes plays a version of the vocal line on string bass as Steve sings it, and Frank Rosaly is a one-man Motian-picture show on the drumkit. A piece in the Tribune the other day ( compares the sound to Astral Weeks, which is a decent thought, but I don't think this sounds much like anything but itself.

I wanted to call special attention to the project because Steve sent me the record in the mail recently, and it's so good! It has eight songs, some of them very expansive. Steve did a great job on the sequence, since each new song, as it opens, marks a refreshing break from the mood of the last, and the sum of eight deep and substantial moods seems to make for a better sit-down listening than fourteen little whirlwinds. The recording and mix, by John Abbey, are unbeatable, in my opinion. Steve's voice is unobtrusively and naturally in front, and the instruments sound unified and physically close to one another. Faders aren't heard at work. Steve's writing seems to get better and better; this would be his best record, without the high-concept ornamentation, but with it, you are really required to buy it, to lend support to a rare and successful fusion of quality craftsmanship and genre-busting boldness.