There are a lot of ways to discover a song and a band. This one came via a restaurant in Nashville called Etch. I was there last year with my wife and our friends Paul and Maryellen, and on our first night in town, with so much local flavor we were anxious to try, the menu just had too many appealing options. After laboring over entrée choices we could all agree upon and share, Maryellen scanned through another half-a-dozen appetizers we really had to have, before sitting forward with her eureka conclusion. “We’ll have a little bit of everything,” she announced excitedly, “like Dawes!”
She eventually explained the menu/tune connection, and I pulled the song up on my phone the next day to give it a cursory listen as we strolled after breakfast at another must-do Nashville food spot, Biscuit Love, in the Hillsboro Village area of town not far from famed Music Row. And while I could immediately appreciate its catchiness, this is not a song to listen to in passing. 13 months later, I played it again late one night for the first time since that Nashville trip, and it floored me. I listened to it three times through until close to 2AM, went to bed, and woke up before 7AM on a Saturday because I couldn’t wait to listen to it again. It’s gotten better each time.
This is a spectacular song in spite of its simplicity, or maybe because of it. It begins with an unadorned piano intro before being joined by the sleek and effortless voice of songwriter and front man Taylor Goldsmith. And even later when the tune swells, the instruments remain minimalist and the sound production pristine. In three aphoristic, short story-like verses, Goldsmith paints poignant, penetrating tales of, in order: a despairing man’s Golden Gate Bridge suicide attempt, another man grasping the tortured path of his life while he ponders his options at a buffet table, and finally an engaged couple contemplating the knottiest of topics, the true meaning of love. In each case, the rationales for the characters’ struggles are contained within the song’s self-explanatory title and chorus: It is, in fact, “a little bit of everything.” Discussing the inspiration for the song, Goldsmith said, “I wrote down the title in my notebook, unsure if I was gonna use it for anything. I was just excited about taking a phrase that I could use for a guy who was trying to explain how the world weighs on him, and at the same time, for a guy explaining what he wants to eat. Everything else came out of that.” One of the things that did then come out of that was the line near the end of the song where Goldsmith’s bride-to-be remarks to her intended with straightforward calm that perhaps the question of love is not actually ever nearly as complicated as we make it: “She said, ‘You just worry about your groomsmen and your shirt-size / And rest assured that this is making me feel good / I think that love is so much easier than you realize / If you can give yourself to someone, then you should.’”
If the song structure, instrumentation, and even Goldsmith’s voice, suggest a similarity to Jackson Browne, it is not by accident. Though it actually is. Dawes, made up of Taylor Goldsmith and his younger brother Griffin, along with their friends Wylie Gelber and Tay Strathairn, are from Los Angeles, and right from the beginning music industry types picked up on their old-school, Laurel Canyon sound, evoking the best of the Canyon rock era that featured artists like the Byrds, Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Eagles, and yes, Jackson Browne. However Dawes did not set out to sound like those bands, or embody the spirit of the time, they say it just “wandered” into their sound when they began making recordings. “People say, ‘Oh you have this real California thing,’” relates Goldsmith, “But I wasn’t even aware of it. I wasn’t hip to Jackson Browne; I wasn’t hip to Warren Zevon. It wasn’t, ‘OK, guys, let’s show them we’re from California.’” Yet once Dawes began to establish themselves and their unintentionally familiar sound, their paths with Browne did readily intertwine; they’ve actually backed Jackson Browne on tour, and Browne sang backing vocals on the Dawes album Nothing Is Wrong, on which ‘A Little Bit Of Everything’ appears. The association has, in fact, become so evident that the NY Times once ran a feature on Dawes titled, “If You Like Jackson Browne…” which opened “It’s easy to pair these two, as they actually pair themselves quite often.”
In keeping with the song, I find this video for ‘A Little Bit Of Everything’ to be equally magnificent in its simple austerity and utter lack of ornamentation. Just a seemingly random collection of black-and-white words filling the screen, highlighting and then dissolving one at a time as the song transpires, until finally at the end, as the bass and piano pound to a compelling crescendo, we’re left again with just those 5 simple words…A Little Bit Of Everything. Brilliant. I’m so glad I found this song; thank goodness Maryellen insisted we try about half the menu in Nashville.