Brandon Dawson

Brandon Dawson

Washington Platform
Friday – Sep 25 – 11:30

Brandon Dawson is a communicator, a teacher. On the inside cover of his new CD you’ll find a picture of two hands entwined in a graceful pose. “It’s a mudra,” Dawson says, “They’re found in Hindu and Bhuddist art and teaching… They’re symbolic gestures, used to convey a larger concept. Sometimes the very act of performing the mudra is believed to be healing to the body and soul.”

He says the image is taken from an ancient painting of the first Dali Lama, “My friend Elizabeth designed the cover, and when she found that image, we both loved the idea. She tried to find out what this particular mudra means, and as best we can determine it’s the ‘teaching’ mudra. That seemed perfect for the intent and direction of the CD.”

Dawson has worked as a teacher, both in US high schools (“as a substitute”) and in University courses abroad. But he says that ultimately everything he does, whether writing songs, welding locomotives (which he did for a time while living in Idaho), or helping other artists find their path (which he currently does for several artists in Cincinnati), it’s all about teaching and learning, about finding the best way through… the one that brings life to everyone involved. “I don’t care what I’m doing… if I can find that spot, that “it” in any process… I’m happy there.” That “it” is the message of Dawson’s music, and of the new CD: “Becoming Human.” “It’s about life, pursuing life and letting go of the things that get in the way, fear, materialism, competitiveness. It’s about becoming more fully ourselves.” Dawson’s quick to point out that he’s not speaking from a point of completion, “This is something I’m learning right now, rubbing up against every day. But the ideas are what I aspire to.”

Although Brandon’s name may be new to you, he’s no stranger to the music industry. After nearly fifteen years in radio, and at least as much time promoting, producing and managing the work of other artists, the time has finally come for his own music to step forward.

Dawson moved to Ohio from his home state of Idaho several years ago, looking for a change of scenery. He found it on the road, spending nearly three years tour managing the band Over the Rhine. Working with that band, as well as other artists like Hem, Kim Taylor and Griffin House have given him a different perspective on what he wants from his music, and what he sees it accomplishing, “The industry is so broken now, in such a shambles… but there’s never been a better time to put out new music, to get it to people without all the garbage and the machinations of the industry. I just want to write good songs, play them with my friends, and get them out to people who care. I really believe there’s a middle path in there by which artists can survive, and the people who care about the music can find it. But the sooner we put the rest of the madness to sleep, the better.”

Brandon’s music fuses together a number of different styles including soul, blues, singer-songwriter folk and straight ahead rock & roll. ”Different people tend to point out different things,” he says “I guess there’s a lot rolling around in there.” The comparisons, while plenty, are all reaching for something elusive, because in the end, it’s none of these, it’s a synthesis. Chris Whitley, Jeff Buckley, Elvis Costello… sure, there are pieces of all of them. But ultimately his sound is all his own, uniquely forged through a decade of crafting his own songs - as he says in the opening track “Milk & Honey” - in his own sweet time.

For “Becoming Human,” Brandon assembled a lineup that includes some of Cincinnati’s finest musicians and performers, drawing heavily from the Blue Jordan Records family. The basic lineup for the record included Brandon on acoustic and National guitar, Mike Helm on Bass, Josh Seurkamp on Drums, and Sharon Udoh on Piano and Hammond organ. The quartet gathered at a performance space in Cincinnati, and recorded nine songs essentially in one long session. Over the next week, other musicians stopped by Brandon’s little hideout in the central Cincinnati neighborhood of Norwood to lay down backing vocals, an electric guitar and the odd tambourine; and then Brandon mixed and mastered the songs himself.

Ask him about the record, and he’ll tell you that he’s most proud of the community vibe of the whole thing: “We didn’t hire any of this out to some high powered studio, on some label’s dime. It’s me and my friends, start to finish. Recorded right here in our neighborhood. Even the cover photos are by my friend Juli. For all its strengths and weaknesses, I love that we did it ourselves.”

So far, people are focusing exclusively on its strengths. Radio station WNKU picked up the song “Milk & Honey” before even receiving the official release, and fans across the country are uttering a collective sigh of “it’s about time.” As Dawson says in the new CD’s liner notes: “It was never time before. Now it is.” Check it out for yourself. You’ll find that good things do indeed come to those who wait.