"So many times I have heard the sounds of Country Music, but hardly a song that had positive thoughts - there was always someone cheating, drinking or hurting."
So writes Michigan country singer Lane Dawson on the back cover of his 1985 album Love Letters, detailing his desire to create a country music album without the core sources of strife that give country music its well-established appeal.
Mr. Dawson didn't have friends in low places, it would seem, and that's his idea of a good start. The record comes with two glowing notes of praise, one from "Brother Ray," who remarks that Dawson was "born with a God-given talent for music," and one from producer Tom Harrison, who states that Lane, his "special friend," has "selected positive love songs which relate to a strong, loving marriage relationship, much like his marriage to his wife, Judy."
Selected is the key word. Dawson doesn't write any of the songs that appear on Love Letters, save for "Let Your Fingers Do the Walking," but many are instantly recognizable, like his takes on "The Rose" and "Wind Beneath My Wings," both made famous by Bette Midler.
Other songs tackled by Dawson share a strange trait: Having the same name as other, much better, songs. "Crazy" by Kenny Rogers makes a showing, but when I first read it I thought I was in for the Willie Nelson classic of the same name. "Love Song of the Year" shows up, too, but it's not the Elvis Presley song of the same name, it's a tune of unknown origin. Even the Dawson penned album-opening zinger, "Let Your Fingers Do the Walking," shares its title with a Black Flag spoken word piece, released one year before Love Letters.
All tracks are performed in the same chintzy manner. Glossy 80's production means tinny drums, synth-doubled pedal steel, and tacky keys, all of which mar any of the emotional content Dawson was reaching for. It literally sounds like he's singing along with a karaoke machine. But Dawson's voice is actually pretty stellar, even against such an uninspired backdrop. His vocals on album closer "Crazy" are inspiring, hinting at a depth previously not displayed on the record.
If the man had a decent back-up band and broader distribution coupled with the chiseled good looks of, say, George Strait, or even the kind of weird looks of an Eddy Raven, Dawson could have been a contender. Alas, it wasn't in the cards for him, but then again, Dawson probably didn't play cards much. Too seedy, he'd say. Guess his Obscuro status was just part of the Big Man's plans.
Details: Lane Dawson, Love Letters; released in 1985 on Shalom Productions. Recorded & remixed at Oak Valley Sound in Nashville, Tennessee.
Google Search Reveals: According to U.P. Grooves, a Michigan based blog that attempts "to chronicle every commercially-released record, pre-1987, with a connection to the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan," Lane released other solo album, Sings More Songs of Praise, and a couple of singles with a band called "The Dawson Boys," which included Jim DeClaire, who went on to form Da Yoopers, who blessed the world with this hilarious Christmas tune and video :
Shalom Productions, meanwhile, doesn't bring up any discernible results, and its doubtful that this Shalom Productions, a South-Florida production company that creates shows about Jewish life and culture has anything to do with the Christian/Gospel label that released Love Letters.
Who Bought This?: While I'm sure the need for squeaky clean Country music existed in the 80s, I don't see this one flying off the shelves at Christian bookstores, as there are few overt references to God or Christianity. I imagine those who picked this up were into the country scene in Michigan, who no-doubt listened to this one by the fire with a warm mug of cider.
But maybe I'm wrong! Did you ever hear Love Letters? See Lane Dawson perform? Have a copy of Lane Dawson and the Lawson Boys' b-side "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (one of my all-time favorite cuts, especially as performed by Issac Hayes)? Please leave any available info in the comments section. In the mean time, enjoy "Crazy" by Lane Dawson.