Album Review: Dawn and Hawkes – The Other Side

I was so excited about the interview I did with Dawn and Hawkes that I thought I had written this review already. My word! But here we are, finally spending some dedicated time with the album to reflect on the beautiful folk songwriting and amazing vocal blending on this meaningful and engaging album.

“Highway” begins the album on a powerful note, feeling a bit like a modern take on an older pop country kind of track. I love the way the guitars dance behind the vocal work on this one. Hawkes takes center stage with a clear vocal, “I go on like you asked me to” in a way that conveys a trailblazer, a pioneer. “Leaving is the only way to know” shows the wisdom of getting out there to actually explore. We can’t just sit back; life is about taking appropriate risks to help us feel alive.

The second track “Trees” has the kind of earthy, folk element to it that you expect from the genre. It evokes an alternative spirituality that is deep and abiding. It reminds me of learning about indigenous people, telling mythology, “live to tell their stories in a different place and time.” Amen. It gives the album its title and shows the versatility of this songwriting duo. What begins with a stripped down folksy tune evolves into a big, string-heavy salvo about human origins and meaning.

“Early in the Morning” brings Miranda Dawn forward to the microphone for the lead. It’s got a definitive western swagger to it, allowing Dawn’s vocal to cut through the mood. It’s a story of an unnamed protagonist who is moved by music. It has a sense of nostalgia to it and I wonder if it’s written about one of their musical forebearers, perhaps a family member.

So the following “Ordinary Day” is one of the most unique songs on the album, with these fascinating little minor chord developments. You’ll need someone with more musical training than me to explain what they’re doing here, but I’ll tell you it reminds me of the Civil Wars. That’s pretty good company. The lyrics quickly tip us as to why; it’s about an untimely death. There’s a feeling of enduring despite the sadness, as if life ends and the rest of us have to push ourselves to keep going. It’s inspiring, if dark.

“Battlefield” is about love and heartbreak. The lyrics go against the pop “love is a battlefield” concept, showing that real love is about trust and connecting more deeply. It has an intimacy that really seeps through the pores of the artists. This is a love song borne out of love; marriage and relationships are not easy, sure, but love conquers all things.

So “Stardust” was one I asked them about in my interview, but suffice it to say that it’s no accident that this one feels different stylistically. There’s another set of philosophical and existential questions on this one. It gives the challenge to make the most of your time one earth. “Before we leave here honey…” reminds the listener to get out there and do what moves you. It’s romantic, sure, but it’s also about the vastness of what we don’t know. Maybe, just maybe, don’t worry so much about the laundry and cutting the grass. You know? Oh and the music… this one has this cool throwback vibe with some organ work that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I love them.

“Hello Mary” is a heartwarming folk song. Something about the recording makes Dawn’s vocal sound a bit closer to us. It’s a hard song for anyone who had a loved one suffer with dementia or related diseases. “I still call her by name” is an important reminder that we need to call people by who they are even if they can’t understand. This song is about a different kind of love and it’s every bit as sweet.

So the final track “Promised Land” is my favorite song on this album and one of my favorite songs of the year. I love the plodding folk style here as it introduces some Milk Carton Kids’ style lyricism. The layered religious imagery connects with me on a soulful level. The harmonies on this one are the same as others on the album, but for some reason they speak to me at a whole other level. If this one doesn’t make you think about who you are and how you fit in this cosmos, I don’t know what will.

This is an incredible album with several great songs. It’s what folk music is about and why I began writing about artists like this. The raw and real artistry here is so much more rewarding than so much of what is “popular” right now. There’s heartfelt expressions of love and concern on this album that usually you’ll only find in places of spiritual longing and seeking. Ultimately that’s what this album is, for me, is a spiritual reflection. It’ll make you think of loved ones, make you miss your passed relatives, and make you think of some really romantic notions, too. This is an album about living life abundantly, in harmony, and with purpose.

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