By Eleni P. Austin

Growing up deep in the San Fernando Valley Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith had a peripheral connection to the music business, their father.

By the time the Goldsmith brothers were born Lenny Goldsmith was a successful Malibu realtor. But back in the ‘70s, he had been an integral part of the Funk collective, Tower Of Power.

Taylor Goldsmith formed his first band in Junior High School with his friend, Blake Mills. The band, Simon Dawes, sounded like an unlikely mash-up of The Kinks, E.L.O. and The Strokes. They released one album, Carnivore in 2006, toured with high profile acts like Incubus and Maroon 5, and promptly broke up.

Rising from the ashes of Simon Dawes, vocalist/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith and bassist Wylie Gelbar, recruited guitarist Alex Casnoff, and young Griffin Goldsmith on drums. (Later, Casnoff departed and was replaced by Tay Strathairn on keyboards). Modifying the band’s name to Dawes, their sound took a sharp left turn.

Inspired by the jam sessions that producer/musician Jonathan Wilson began in his Laurel Canyon home, the band embraced the homespun, decidedly bucolic Laurel Canyon sound.

Laurel Canyon in the ‘60s and early ‘70s was like Paris in the ‘20s. The canyon connected the staid San Fernando Valley with the glamorous streets of Hollywood. The canyon itself became a refuge from both worlds.

Laurel Canyon provided a safe haven for freaks, weirdoes, bohemians and artists. Canyon aristocracy included Byrds, Mamas & Papas, Turtles, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash (and sometimes Young) Jim Morrison, Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon and Frank Zappa.

By 2011, Dawes had recorded two albums for Dave Matthews’ boutique label, A.T.O., North Hills, and Nothing Is Wrong. Both were steeped in a rustic, hickory smoked, back porch, “Big Pink”-ness that echoed the Band, the Byrds, Bob Dylan and the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Dawes brand new release, (released through their own label, HUB Records), Stories Never End, takes another hard left turn. The band has jettisoned the country comfort for a more compact and literate sound. Basically, less Levon, more Zevon.

Perhaps they are anticipating the inevitable backlash on Suspenders & Banjo bands, (this means you, Lumineer Sons Of Mumford!) Whatever the impetus, It’s a smart move.

The album opens with “Just Beneath The Surface.” A warm-hearted melody is anchored by a loping rhythm, spikey guitar flourishes, pounding piano fills and ethereal harmonies.

The lyrics examine personal demons… “Between the thoughtless words and the wordless thoughts, between my plotless fears and my fearless plots/Between the parts of me I keep from you and the things that I’m just not/The center keeps on drifting, the music never stops..”

Two tracks solidify Taylor Goldsmith’s reputation as a wordsmith wunderkind, “From A Window Seat” and “Bear Witness.” The former matches breezy instrumentation (that recalls Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Dark Star), with sharply observed lyrics. A plane ride provides rich opportunity for character study: “These Planes are good for sifting through the warriors and the men/I get time to sit and watch them for awhile.”

Powered by a martial cadence and sinewy slide guitar solo, the latter cut effortlessly limns the last days of an elderly widower… “Some nights get worse than others, and I start thinking about your mother, and she’s here with me as far as I can tell/ As if the world revealed it’s secret, and it’s asking me to keep it, like a kid who hears the ocean in a shell.”

The best tracks here are “Someone Will,” “Something In Common,” and “Stories Never End.”

“Someone Will” is tethered to a clip-clop gait and “Gentle On My Mind” guitar riffs. Threading through this sly two-step tapestry, Goldsmith weaves a wry romantic confession that feels both urgent and laid back.

“Something In Common” is a languid reverie paired with a sweeping philosophical manifesto…”All my mornings start with the alarm clock, every dream gets stopped before the end/ And with each bit I remember, the more details run together and I’m left with a message I don’t comprehend.”

Finally, the title track is a sad-sack waltz that showcases Goldsmith’s trenchant attention to detail… “If I tried to show every side of you through the words of a song, I’d say a fraction of what I’d intend/’Cause if you’re telling a story at some point you’d stop, but stories don’t end.” Coloring the incisive lyrics are Tay Strathairn’s layered piano chords and a fluttery instrumental coda.

Dawes collaborates with Blake Mills on a couple of songs,”Hey Lover” and “Side Effects.” “Hey Lover” does much to lighten the mood. The Latin-tinged melody envelopes laugh-out-loud lyrics from Mills… “Well I may be white but I don’t like my people much/ But I still want to raise with you and watch our younglings hatch, Fucking make the first letters of their first names match!”

“Side Effects” takes the opposite tack. A shambling meditation on lost love, guitars piano and organ intertwine around a stop-start beat. “It’s a loneliness perfected, it’s how to laugh when you should cry/ The side effects of broken promise becomes a way of getting by.”

Other highlights include the shimmering roundelay of “Most People,” the rueful, piano-driven “Just My Luck,” and “From The Right Angle,” a bleak examination of hope and desire.

The album closes with an acoustic reprise of “Just Beneath The Surface” that manages to feel wistful and sanguine.

Taylor Goldsmith and the entire band display an adroit level of songcraft that belies their tender ages. Stories Never End is an album rich with detail and nuance. As assured as anything Jackson Browne or Warren Zevon assembled in those halcyon Laurel Canyon days.