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Dolly Varden

For A While – 2013 (Mid-Fi)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Dolly Varden

Who would think that a band that named itself after a certain type of trout (not a certain country singer as some have suggested) and chalked up two decades and six discs would give us a set of songs that's worthy of contention for album of the year, even though the year's just barely begun. Helmed by married singer/songwriters, Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen, and aided and abetted by bassist Mike Bradburn, guitarist Mark Balletto and drummer Matt Thobe, this Chicago based band makes a glorious sound, one rich in achingly beautiful ballads, evocative narratives and songs that resonate through sheer drive and determination.

Part of the reason for the new effort's success lies in Dawson's ability to relay his material with cinematic suggestion. That's evident in the way he illustrates each of these entries with such precise detail, be it the pickle weed hill and the cinder block wall in the canyon where the pine trees fell described in Del Mar, 1976 or the set-up for Mayfly, where the rain is ending, in very late September when there's yellow in the leaves of the trees. The band provides an intimate connection to these songs, and when Dawson sings of his great grandfather who left Saskatchewan...for the warmth of the sun and the smell of the ocean, that wistful wanderlust is all too seductive to resist.

Remarkably, these pervasive melodies are cast in relatively modest trappings - the strum of acoustic guitars, the gentle shimmer of pedal steel, a deliberate but tastefully employed rhythm section - and a sound that sometimes recalls James Taylor or Jackson Browne. Done (Done), Mayfly, Why, Why, Why and Saskatchewan to Chicago strike an instant impression, but the fact is, the same could be said for every track this superb album has to offer. As its title suggests, "For A While" lingers long after its final notes fade away.