Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley at Futureappletree Too
The stories that come out of and, in effect, those that were put into Dolly Varden's new album, "For A While," are lifers. They are those instances that a person's always going to remember, whether they think about them all the time or not. They'll rush back with all the vivid smells, colors, sounds, tears and laughter, as if no time had passed between now and the last consideration. They are the kinds of memories that are always going to feel more instrumental and consequential, the longer you live. They will get heavier and heavier and they will take on a revered sort of importance that you'll never be able to shake.
The pieces of bygone days that Steve Dawson, one of two lead singers and songwriters (along with Diane Christiansen) for the long-running, Chicago-based outfit, gives us in songs such as "Del Mar, 1976" and "Saskatchewan To Chicago," are indicative of the larger picture that's always more compelling when you are able to view the pictures within the picture. The moments on this record are those that only seem fleeting at the time, but they are such that they will stick to us like a signature smell, one that we get a whiff of frequently when we turn our heads quickly, or when we're sweating out our impurities, from time-to-time. They will dawn on us, all over again, when spurred on by some random occurrence or brush with the past. Dawson and Christiansen collect these instances into one grand pile here and they just open up the faucet and let them tumble out. They have written a batch of songs that are dense with memories - those that made permanent impressions on them. The decision by a great-grandfather to leave Saskatchewan, Canada for "the warmth of the sun and the smell of the ocean" in California might have been the very catalyst for all of the subsequent memories to stick to. They all likely owe a debt to that exploratory move, which could have been restlessness or entirely calculated. It doesn't matter any more. It's what's come from that action - indirectly, almost all of it - that's gone on to form this patchwork that includes remembrances of sliding down "that pickle weed hill," the neighbor kid's mother who always smelled of alcohol, the race track fair where Buck Owens and the Buckaroos once played, and of time never ending, just getting pushed, slid down the line. Christiansen sings, "Air is cold, blood is warm, we are here inside the storm, it seems impolite to say but I'll say it anyway, it looks like it's gonna be this way for a while," in one of the anchor phrases on the record and it hits you in the gut how much of all this you have built up inside you as well.