Photo Courtesy of Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding
It’s rare to hear jazzy instruments like the vibraphone or the double bass accompanied by the smooth swelling of a string quartet.
But on Last Flight Out, the second collaboration between Chicago singer-guitarist Steve Dawson and his backing band Funeral Bonsai Wedding, unconventional musical pairing intertwine to create a uniquely bright and buoyant soundscape. The album’s musicians skillfully adjust their playing for what each jazzy folk tune demands, supporting Dawson’s lyrics that strive toward creating a better tomorrow.
Last Flight Out brings seven brightly colored pieces together that are both joyful and encouraging and play out like a sunny afternoon. Throughout these songs, Dawson sings comforting, impressionistic lyrics that are spiritual pick-me-ups to the listener. “Your mama would have liked to see/The sunlight gathering at your feet,” he sings on the longest and most blissed out track, “The Monkey Mind Is On The Prowl.” Likewise, on “Mastodons,” he lists all the things that bring him joy in life such as “the smell of the river after it rains” and “the chance love can someday return.”
Other songs find Dawson advocating for compassion in the midst of a crumbling world such as the chorus of “While We Were Staring At Our Palms” that goes, “With these final breaths/Can’t we at least be kind.” His excellent lyricism on Last Flight Out propels the record forward and energizes its songs with a call-to-action.
Funeral Bonsai Wedding, consisting of a vibraphonist, drummer, bassist and the string group Quartet Parapluie, provide a dynamic backdrop to Dawson’s leads, conjuring moods that range from understated to triumphant. The musicians really click on the Van Morrison-channeling track “However Long It Takes,” with all of them playing a single catchy melody that punctuates its verses. Also, as for individual moments, vibraphonist Jason Asadiewicz delivers a standout solo on the hope-filled closer, “It’s Not What You Think,” floating atop Jason Roebke’s driving double bass and the quartet’s swelling strings.
But, for as much as the strings contribute to the Last Flight Out’s fantastical sound, at points, they tend to dominate the mix too much and overpower the other instruments such as on parts of “Mastodons.” But, given the odd combination of instruments and styles, the album’s production does a good job of balancing everything out, for the most part.
At a brisk 30 minutes, Last Flight Out is worth checking out. The soulful songs Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding deliver on their second collaborative album will pair well with the warm days ahead in spite of the anxieties that permeate our lives. Fittingly on the final track, Dawson perfectly sums up the gist of the current global situation when he sings, “My jaw is fixed into a grin/as I stumble down the streets/Strangers smile with caution.”