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Saturday, April 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Dawes revives the Laurel Canyon sound
Elusive California

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The Mamas & the Papas longed for the Golden State's warm embrace on "California Dreamin'" more than 40 years ago.

Taylor Goldsmith, songwriter for Dawes, grew up living that dream in a modest 1950s Malibu ranch house.

But Goldsmith had dreams of his own.

"When you've grown up in Southern California, you only know what it's like to live in a big, giant city," he told me during a phone interview last week. "You start to romanticize about the country and places where life goes slower. I think that's why the California sound can be more dreamy and laid back."

Dawes' folk-rock is grounded in wistful wonder about distant promise. But there's angst in the band's delicate acoustic songs - a bittersweet sense that the allure of their sweeping coastal hometown is ultimately unyielding.

You can hear it on "That Western Skyline," the opening track from Dawes' 2009 debut album, The North Hills. In that song, Goldsmith describes following a girl to a place "where the soil is so much richer." He emerges unfulfilled and homesick.

"I do not feel welcome," he sings. "All the birds, the trees, the falling snow, no they were not made for me." He curses the inescapable shadow of "that western skyline" even as he calls out to be taken home.

Critics have pegged Dawes as the next generation of the Laurel Canyon folk-rock movement that reigned in the late 1960s and early 1970s and sparked the success of Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, the Eagles and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

The mellow edge of the Laurel Canyon sound, even back then, seemed bounded by an addictive California darkness. The Eagles summed it up in "Hotel California": You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave. Goldsmith, 24, sees differences between L.A. folk now and then. "I think there's more cynicism in the music now."

But the video to Dawes' hit single, "Love Is All I Am," is six minutes of swirling western imagery - sunset kisses and beautiful girls in bikinis jumping into swimming pools. It suggests one thing hasn't changed.

California is still a dream.

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