“When you talk about me/Do you stick to the memories?” singer-guitarist-songwriter Taylor Goldsmith asks in “Just Beneath the Surface,” a song about hidden identity that starts his band’s third album. It is also a perfect question to ask about the music on this quietly gripping, deceptively gleaming record. Dawes are natural experts at vintage allure: the precise twang and breezy introspection of Seventies California rock. You don’t need a long memory to hear the lightly scuffed, upper-register pathos of Jackson Browne (an early Dawes fan) in Goldsmith’s clean, pleading voice. The similarity is natural and astonishing.
But as Goldsmith notes in that opening song, “Just beneath the surface/There’s another one of me.” And that guy is everywhere under this glaze: apart, frustrated, desperately certain in his passion. Goldsmith traces the delusion of escape in Los Angeles’ topography (“From a Window Seat [Rivers and Freeways]”); captures the futility of offering your life to someone always looking the other way (“Someone Will”); and admits, in the title song, that he’ll never be as articulate as his heart demands (“If I tried to show every side of you . . . I’d say a fraction of what I’d intend”). The great Browne and Anglo-L.A. Fleetwood Mac albums also masked profound turmoil and broken paradise. Dawes treat these wounds with the same trusted medicine: warming vocal rain and a rich weave of guitars and keyboards. It still works.