Coffee Shop Songs
Dawson's 11th CD showcases his singer-songwriter style by being exquisitely acoustic. Soaring harmonies weave around intricate melody lines brought to life by mandolin, violin & guitar with a little flute to boot.
Click on a song title to preview the song, or on the lyric sheet icon to view the lyrics below. More information about this recording can be found in the details section.
On this release, Dawson decided to remain "drumless" to emphasize the importance of the stories told in the songs by keeping them mostly acoustic. Joined by virtuoso musician and producer/engineer for the project, Nick Garrett-Powell, Dawson brings together 17 new songs sure to please long-time fans and draw new listeners as well. Dawson plays all of the rhythm acoustic guitar on the album as well as singing the lead vocals and adding the occasional flute line. He is accompanied by Nick's amazing mandolin work, classical guitar, slide, steel string, harmonica, brush snare, shaker and stunning harmonies. Nick and Dawson form the core of this musical tapestry and manage to make it sound like they've been playing together for 10 years instead of only a few months. Deborah Katz joins them on several tracks with the haunting beauty of her violin and viola work, and Missy Howell knocks the socks off the cliche that she has the voice of an angel. Brian Engle also wandered into the studio during the recording of "That's What Friends Are For" and helped fill out the bass harmony for that track.
From the upbeat swing of "Without Love" to the light-hearted reminder to put aside our anger "Before The Sun Sets", Dawson shares an intimate glimpse into his personal life over the past 7 years. These songs chronicle some very painful times such as the death of his father and the poignant song of sorrow and hope that clings to the promise: "When I Find Forever" I will find you. They also celebrate some happier moments such as the wedding song, "1000 Butterflies", which he wrote and performed for friends, and the toe-tapping burden-lifting song that reminds us "That's What Friends Are For". Backed by Nick's haunting classical chops, "Telephone Game" gives a harsh glimpse into how gossip can crack the image of our friends. From there he moves to an emotional, first-person account of Jesus in the garden asking the Father to "take me in their place". Spaced throughout the album are a few worship choruses that are sure to get stuck in your head and find their way back to the tip of your tongue throughout the day such as "It's By The Grace" and "I Will Tell".
"Coffee Shop Song" emphasizes Dawson's ability to paint a story with his songs, singing of a girl who walks into a coffee shop and hears the words of a song that have an impact on her life. For those who enjoy intricate rhythms, his modern take of the favorite hymn, "Be Thou My Vision", jumps around from 5/4 to 6/8 time and includes a fresh chorus that ties the traditional words together in a new and meaningful way. Brought together, these 17 songs will take you on a journey of faith and character, from the depths of grief to the heights of hope and joy. And like the reprise, the album will leave you with the comforting truth that by the grace of God we can come boldly before the throne and seek mercy and help in our time of need.
Review by Kelly O'Neil, "Review You"
Portland native Dawson Cowals has compiled seven years worth of songwriting onto the aptly titled Coffee Shop Songs. Cowals' tunes are full and captivating whether he is playing solo acoustic guitar or accompanied by a handful of other talented musicians. His voice is warm and dances from being straightforward to letting the vowels roll around in his oral cavity resulting more in a Darius Rucker sounding delivery. The multi-talented artist's flute work and lackadaisical vocal octave jumps throughout certain songs also give these Biblical verse driven tunes a Dave Matthews feel.
This off-kilter vocal delivery style is evident in "Telephone Game" which boasts an intriguing guitar melody and slight hint of echo applied to Cowals' voice. On the flip side, Cowals maintains a more Lennon-McCartney feeling on "He Took It All" which is also the listener's first introduction to Cowals' subdued Ian Anderson flute chops.
The other opportunity where the flute is featured is in Cowals' original rendition of the traditional hymn, "Be Thou My Vision." This revamp is brilliant with a full Appalachian sound including fiddle and multi-layered vocals. The well-known melody is hidden beneath a Celtic-tinged undertone but the dramatic lyrics shine through. Cowals' music can also be molded into a more modern praise and worship setting as heard in "It's By the Grace" and "In Their Place."
In the album liner notes, Cowals notates the inspirational verses that guided him in writing each song. These personal attachments to the messages he sings are luminously displayed in the quiet, acoustic "Yoke," where Cowals literally sings the red print of Jesus' words straight out of the Gospels. He also adds a beautiful dove-tailing effect with the vocal harmonies in "I Will Tell" which would also suitably work in a modern call and response worship event.
One of the songwriting formulas on countless Christian artists' dockets is to not only put music to Bible verses but to tell a modern day story of a hurt person looking for answers. Cowals includes such a tune on Coffee Shop Songs entitled, "Coffee Shop Song." Poor Mary is a regular at the coffee shop where she takes her seat solemnly by the window and listens to the singer expound about love, hope and redemption. Unfortunately, it is slightly cliché despite the clever analogy, "…But the guilt and shame / They still remain / Like a stain upon her shirt." Perhaps due to the fact that the rest of the album is so top notch, it would have been nice to hear more descriptive words added to this song about the struggle inside of Poor Mary.
Cowals sounds like a fun guy to be around and has written an uplifting message for his comrades, "That's What Friends Are For." However, it's the weakest song lyrically because it incorporates the old nursery rhyme, "Knick-knack, paddy-whack." This inane reference is an obvious distraction despite the positive vibe it attempts to portray. However, "Without Love" is an immensely clever and entertaining tune with Cowals' blatant Duke Ellington allusions. This rocking ditty features an extremely comfortable Cowals scatting, "Doo doo doody doo wah pah" and crooning, "It don't mean a thing if you ain't loving," – an obvious take off of the late jazz bandleader's "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing." The most poignant lyrics on Coffee Shop Songs are found in the lovely ballad, "When I Find Forever." This superb number is dedicated to Cowals' late father and holds the listeners attention all the way through to the haunting extended coda.
Coffee Shop Songs is a pleasurable album and Cowals' versatility is admirable. It is no surprise that residents of Portland can currently hear him play at local churches and coffee shops weekly.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
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