Dawson Rutledge is what anyone who cares deeply about music would be attracted to. He’s a hip, award winning, sophisticated young songwriter, a unique vocalist, serious about his craft. At nineteen, he’s already something of a vet, having crammed a full-blown apprenticeship into two heady years. “When I was in high school, I had this great teacher, Evan Bueckert, who had
created a recording class,” says the young man from Cranbrook, British Columbia. “In this course we learned a lot about music and musical composition. By the end of the course, each student was required to write and record a set of original songs. At that point, I was hooked.”
This was a period of great growth for Dawson, who also got serious about his guitar playing, listening to and being inspired by songwriters the likes of The Head & The Heart, Mumford & Sons, and Shakey Graves. He got his heart broken and subsequently, in a span of six months, wrote somewhere between fifteen to twenty songs. After recording and releasing a demo of 8 original tunes, things shifted into high gear. Meeting record executive Geordie Gillespie in May of 2016 has led Dawson to record his studio debut, the haunting Monsters. Gillespie heard Dawson at Mesa Music Festival and Jersey Shore Festival and was knocked out, declaring Dawson as “one of the artists to watch,” at both gatherings. He, in fact, became so enamored of the young man’s music, he decided the best way to get his music made was to introduce him to Grammy award winner Justin Guip, who had worked with Levon Helm for over a decade. In a few short, productive weeks, near Woodstock, Rutledge and Guip made magic together. In addition to Rutledge’s stunning picking, it also features the pedal steel work of Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Amy Helm) on “Yours, Truly” that suits the subdued haunting work of the songwriter.
There’s a rustic, organic acoustic feel to the album that has a warm ‘70s Woodstock vibe to it. But it’s Rutledge’s voice and lyrics that will pull you in. Take the opener, “Thief Of A Lover.” “You lost your tongue in the mouth of an icy stream,” sings the kid who has the flow of a great rapper and the elasticity of a cool jazz singer. The tune “When Life Gives You Monsters” has a subtle rhythmic groove, with Rutledge phrasing in a sort of Caribbean patois and spitting out smart lines like, “Our two track minds have been tugging on each other / It seems no good can come from staying desperate lovers.” “Heavy Heart” sports a hooky, chilly keyboard riff and dark lyrics about another love affair that is clearly not working out. One of the trademarks of this full-length LP is how conceptually strong the collection is. Lyrics, music, vocals and arrangements all seem wonderfully consistent throughout the record and each song adds to a powerful feeling of romantic despair. In this way, Monsters is not unlike Morrison’s masterpiece Astral Weeks. One song slides effortlessly into the next, foreshadowing what’s to come, reflecting what has come before. What might be most surprising about Monsters, is that both the songwriter and the finished record are so original. Usually, even the best efforts betray the influence of the songwriter’s heroes. Dylan sounded like Woody Guthrie, Springsteen like Van Morrison. You will be enchanted by Dawson’s first full-length LP, but you will have a fruitless time trying to spot his forbears.