Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen spent many years trying to make a comfortable living from music, first with Stump the Host and then with their current band, Dolly Varden. But a few years ago--after several fruitless and excruciating dalliances with major labels--they decided instead to just make themselves happy, and signed to the New York indie Evil Teen. "Simple Pleasure," from Dolly Varden's brand-new third album, The Dumbest Magnets, could be read as a reference to this: "It's back down to simple pleasure / The well-laid plan has worn thin." But the whole album is about letting go in a larger sense: over and over, in songs about the fragile negotiations of domesticity, their distinctly adult characters take the plunge, go with their gut. In "Along for the Ride," Dawson sings, "I've been along for the ride / But now I am jumping in," while on the title track the couple harmonizes, "Give in / Believe / For better / My skin / Is shared." The album's biggest, most euphoric hook comes in a song about surrender, "I Come to You." Under pop producer Brad Jones (who's worked with Marshall Crenshaw and Jill Sobule) the quintet's melodic roots rock is assured and relaxed--most of the tempos hover around ballad speed. While the mellotron strings and timpanilike swells on the title track are a bit heavy-handed, the sophisticated twang of Mark Balletto's lead guitar and Dawson's soulful inflections (on "Simple Pleasure" he cops some Van Morrison phrasing and adapts a line from the Otis Clay gem "That's How It Is") are sharper and more effective than ever. Saturday, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Greg Williams.