Mike Dawes – ‘What Just Happened?’ [Review]
When you come across an album titled What Just Happened?, it’s going to get your attention. But from an artist’s perspective, giving your album a name like that is a pretty risky proposition. The amount of expectation automatically placed upon a release called What Just Happened? is going to be immense; if you take that leap, even the slightest flaw is guaranteed to result in a critical backlash so fierce that your best course of action will be to go into hiding. Such a lifestyle change might well suit an undercover secret agent or investigative journalist, but for a performer it’s pretty much the kiss of death.
If an album called What Just Happened? had been released by almost any other band or artist, it would likely have ended in tears. But for the debut long-playing release from an acoustic virtuoso whose playing has, for a long time, been soundly praised by worshippers the world over, What Just Happened? is a spookily fitting monicker. Within the first five seconds of opening track Boogie Slam, Dawes instantly proves his worth as not just a guitarist, but a musician, drawing the listener helplessly (and willingly) into a deep, warm, and luxurious musical world. Before long, this album’s title becomes an almost meditative mantra as Dawes drags several instruments’ worth of parts from a single guitar, not letting up for a moment yet steering well clear of the “notes for the sake of notes” territory frequently occupied by his peers.
Track two – Dawes’ globally renowned rearrangement of Gotye’s hit Somebody That I Used To Know – is, as the reputation that precedes it suggests, mind-blowing and heartbreaking all at once. At the time of writing this review, I’m having heart surgery in a few days – and I’m considering pausing this track and calling the hospital to make sure I should really be listening to it. The standout element of Somebody That I Used To Know absolutely has to be the dynamic mastery on display here: Loud notes pop out in all the right places, while in the background soft comping glides by so consistently that you would absolutely swear that either this tune is multi-tracked, or Mike Dawes is some kind of lizard-person / alien hybrid sent to Earth to take over the acoustic fingerstyle world. In short, Somebody That I Used To Know may make you start taking David Icke seriously. Approach with caution.
The Impossible moves from a creepy horror-movie intro to thick tapping structures, merciless percussion and eerie details to create a truly unique piece. Utterly mesmerising.
Forest Party is a charmingly medieval tune featuring additional flute and plenty of off-kilter rhythmic playfulness. The most comfort-zone-stretching piece for me so far, and all the better for it. Really cool call-and-response section too.
Somewhere Home relaxes the muscles from the first bar, lulling the listener into a serene spring bubbling over with lovingly elicited notes. Plenty of sweet wistfulness, but stops short of over-the-top cheesy sentimentalism. Stunning harmonics, exotic tonal shades, and an almost vocal quality to the playing in places.
Titanium (a cover of the David Guetta hit) opens with Andy Summers-esque chords and Sting-style melodies before building into a full-steam-ahead chorus section punctuated with the kind of fingerwork that leave the listener convinced that Mike Dawes must keep an extra pair of hands spare for moments like this. Fantastically virtuosic and always tasteful, this track is pure fun from the first bar to the last. The video (viewable below) is absolute genius.
Superstition (a Stevie Wonder cover) pays respect to a soul legend in fine and fitting style. Funky lines, expensive-sounding chords and Dawesian quirkiness abound, and are employed so skilfully that that album-title mantra is going to be branded into your memory by the time this track is over – that is, if it hasn’t been already.
Boogie Shred grooves hard and cuts deep with mean melodic / percussive breaks. The sound of a virtuoso letting loose and having fun – and my favourite track of this kind since Steve Vai’s Jibboom.
Finally, Maybe Someday Soon brings the album to a close with more laid-back luxury and some mournful violin. Similar vibes to Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s Re-Foc album (which happens to be my favourite release of theirs). Dynamics rise and heaviness attenuates; cheeky percussive flourishes fit neatly into holes; and beautiful chord progressions lead the listener to a gentle, tranquil ending.
At this point, all that remains is to ask that question, over and over again, before hitting Repeat in an effort to find the answer.
Buy What Just Happened? here: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/what-just-happened/id625005582
Listen to a preview here: http://mikedawes.co.uk/category/albumpreview/
Connect with Mike Dawes on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mikedawesofficial
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And see exactly what just happened during five of this album’s nine tracks on YouTube: