"The Malfunction Room" by Craig Dawson (1999)

The Malfunction Room (1999) Craig Dawson
by Bill Quinn (Trad and Now magazine)

It’s true that some of the better things in life are free, and for me that’s definitely the case with this album. When I first discovered the music of Craig Dawson (and Simone Dawson, nee Olding) very late in the piece, I bought a couple of albums after a gig and Craig threw a copy of ‘The Malfunction Room’ (TMR) in for free.
When I finally put TMR on the stereo some days later, I was instantly amazed and aghast. Amazed, because the first strains of ‘Darlinghurst Road’ had the magical effect that some songs can have. For me, it made me stop whatever I was doing and listen from the first chords to the last strains.
And aghast because I felt Craig was undervaluing what is a superbly-crafted and diverse album, blending jaggedly emotional ballads, a couple of masterful displays of Dawson’s finger-picking guitar work, and a touch of wry, Australian mateship humour.
A comment I’ve heard echoed by others who’ve listened to the album concerns two of the more emotional songs: ‘Rachelle on a Carousel’ and “Melinda.” It took me ages before I had the courage to ask the burning question I had for both: are they in any way auto-biographical*. They’re just both such heart-string tuggers that sweep the listener up with the stories behind them.
It took a couple of listens to realise one contributing element that makes this such an accessible and enjoyable album, that being the minimal, selective yet deft additional instrumentation on some tracks. While Dawson has forged a long and illustrious career on the strength of his masterful voice, guitar and harmonica, there are light touches here with cello, recorder and violin. And Anthony Frost’s haunting keys in the closing track, ‘Travelling On’ just provide a perfect fade out to a brilliant and timeless album.
I don’t choose the word ‘timeless’ here lightly. TMR has a strength of lyrics, vocals and instrumentation that made it an instant hit when released in 1999, a decade later, it’s set to find a new audience when Craig and friends take to the stage at The Folkus Room on Friday 15 May 2009 to celebrate its tenth birthday.
Joining Craig will be a full band, comprising for the most part an amalgam of his blended family: wife Simone Dawson (long time collaborator on many albums and live performances), son Rylan Dawson on guitar (and eponymously the muse for the instrumental ‘Pickin’ on Rylan’), and Simone’s daughter Keshna Olding on back-up vocals.
Privileged as I’ve been to sit in on some of the practice sessions in the Dawson household, I can tell you it’s going to be something special that will add all sorts of extra dimensions to the original album.
Craig’s support will be long-time musical friends ‘Divided by Three’.
* Whether those songs do have any basis in fact I’ll just tuck away to myself. Get along to The Folkus Room on Friday 15 May 2009 and all may be revealed. Or not.

© Bill Quinn 2009

Songs

1. Darlinghurst Road 8. Two Wheels
2. Suits and Ties 9. Reconciliation
3. Rachelle on a Carousel 10. Pickin' on Rylan
4. Pickin' on the Captain 11. The Waterfall
5. Melinda 12. The Reunion
6. Girl on the Street 13. Darryl made it through another Day
7. The Bridge 14. Travelling On

Musicians

Jenny Donald - violin

Nicole Avery - cello

Vanessa Purcell - recorder, vocals

Craig Dawson - vocals

Glenn Skuthorpe - lead acoustic guitar

Anthony Frost - keyboard

Graeme Hume - harmony vocals

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