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Steve Dawson

...whereupon he produced a mixture of tracks from his latest CD, Sweet Is The Anchor, and a couple of cuts from Dolly Varden's The Dumbest Magnets. After the lush settings of (particularly) the songs from Steve's new album, it was the voice that had to provide the colour and the soul. And it did. "Love Is A Blessing," even minus the strings and loose-limbed rhythm section, sounded like Marvin Gaye at the height of his powers. (I know many people have made the Al Green comparison, but What's Going On still moves me to tears and Steve's voice gets pretty darn close to having that effect.)

Dolly Varden had played at The Stables previously, so it was not unreasonable to assume that some in the audience had been at that show also. But when Steve suggested anyone call out any Dolly Varden songs that they wanted to hear, the only response came from one wag who called out "9 to 5." Steve smiled and suggested that qualified as a "syntax error," before going into "Balcony." Later he mentioned he was in a band called Dolly Varden "...with a V." (The band takes its name from a particular variety of fish, "a stubborn, iridescent trout" found off the coast of the western U.S. and Canada; said fish were named for the heroine of the 1841 novel Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens.)

Steve Dawson

Steve's between-song banter was warm and charming, occasionally self-effacing. He introduced "I'm The One I Despise" as "...a true story." It was actually this song in this setting that made me think of Dolly Parton (...with a P). It has a melancholic (or miserablist, as I'm apt to say amongst friends) theme, but delivered in an almost upbeat way that I find Dolly's "The Grass Is Blue" does. "Temporary" was introduced with a reference to his father-in-law, who maintained "Don't let life get you down--it's not permanent." Again, a song with miserablist credentials, delivered with a soaring, soulful voice counterpointing the sparse, picked guitar. I've probably used the word 'soulful' a couple of times too many already, but that's how his voice strikes me. This is singing with heart, from the heart. And not just on his own songs, as witnessed when he played a stunning version of Armstrong & Raye's "Just For A Thrill," famously performed by Ray Charles.

Steve Dawson & Bill Mallonee

It was also with someone else's song that Steve closed his set. A quick nod and word towards backstage and Paul reappeared along with Bill Mallonee. The three then played Big Star's "Thirteen," with Steve and Bill sharing singing the verses. The vocal harmonies were fantastic, almost otherworldly. The song was over all too soon and an interval announced. I realised only then that an hour had passed, but I greedily wanted more.   continue