Dolly Varden | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Dolly Varden's new album, Forgiven Now (Undertow), like its predecessor, 2000's The Dumbest Magnets, is largely about learning to enjoy the qualified pleasures of adulthood. Bandleaders Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen have endured their share of commercial disappointments over the years, and in living and working together as husband and wife for 11 years, they've no doubt strained their relationship more than many couples ever will. But on "The Lotus Hour," which could be read as an ode to yoga, Christiansen sings, "It's time for us to leave / Float above working-class houses and blossoming trees / This is the lotus hour / We are refugees from all the plans we've made." Songs like "Trying to Live Up" and the title track acknowledge that most troubles are trifles in the face of a deep bond, and on "There's a Magic," the group's first stab at straight-up honky-tonk, Dawson sounds as enchanted as a newlywed. Not everything's hunky-dory, though: both "Time for Me to Leave" and "Disappear" are fed-up kiss-offs, the first to a destructive partner ("So batten down your petty grief / Because picking you up has left me all in pieces"), the second to a deluded one ("You always said you had the tougher skin / But baby look at you now / Things I said have collapsed you from within"). The band (rounded out by bassist Michael Bradburn, drummer Matt Thobe, and guitarist Mark Balletto) and Nashville pop producer Brad Jones give Dawson's hooky, soul-streaked melodies a rootsy shimmer reminiscent of the Band; delicate touches of pedal steel (courtesy of Al Perkins, who played with Gram Parsons), tabla, vibes, mandolin, and harmonium heighten the delicate feel. Chris Mills opens. Friday, May 10, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jason Boton.

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