Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen have been performing, writing, and recording together for well over two decades. They’ve performed to capacity audiences and critical raves all over the U.S. and Europe as a duo, and with their band, Dolly Varden.
“It’s a gift to be able to do this,” says Christiansen when asked how the couple manages to navigate the sometimes tense mix of creativity and marriage. “I couldn’t imagine life any other way,” echoes Dawson. “We’ve been singing together since the day we met.”
In 1988 Dawson and Christiansen were asked by a mutual friend to add background vocals to a recording. Though they’d never met, they noticed that their voices effortlessly harmonized. Soon they were inseparable singing partners, and in 1990 they became husband and wife as well. In the early 90’s they co-led Stump The Host, a twangy rock band that packed Chicago area clubs. Then, in 1995, as the couple’s singing and songwriting found new depth and maturity, Stump The Host transformed into Dolly Varden, a new band named after an elusive species of trout. Dolly Varden has released six critically acclaimed albums in the United States and Europe and Dawson and Christiansen released an album of intimate duets in 2003 that has become a fan favorite. In addition, Dawson has released two solo albums and an album with an ensemble of Chicago free jazz luminaries called, Funeral Bonsai Wedding. In 2020 Dawson will release, “Last Flight Out,” with Funeral Bonsai Wedding, featuring the Quartet Parapluie string quartet.
Christiansen is also a renowned visual artist and animator who’s works have been shown in galleries and museums all over the United States. Dawson has been teaching very popular and inspiring songwriting classes at the Old Town School of Music since 2008 and co-wrote a book with Mark Caro called, “Take It To The Bridge: Unlocking The Great Songs Inside You,” in 2016.
With Diane Christiansen’s dusky alto folding into Stephen Dawson’s county-soul pleas, Dolly Varden achieves a rare, aching beauty founded on intimacy and understated urgency. – Chicago Tribune
Electric-country majesty… a series of lover’s questions posed with a kick and sheen that evoke both the dB’s and Gram Parson’s Fallen Angels. And when Dawson and Christiansen fly in close harmony, you get a good idea of how Marshall Crenshaw and Lucinda Williams might sound in duet. – Rolling Stone
Who would think that a band that named itself after a certain type of trout and chalked up two decades and six discs would give us a set of songs that’s worthy of contention for album of the year, even though the year’s just barely begun. Helmed by married singer/songwriters, Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen, this Chicago based band makes a glorious sound, one rich in achingly beautiful ballads, evocative narratives and songs that resonate through sheer drive and determination.” – Country Standard Time
Their sneakily affecting roots-pop radiates with the easy intimacy of a couple who’ve raptly contemplated each other’s emotional blueprints. Their songs are smart, small wonders: poetic, enigmatic and above all, warm. – Village Voice
Steve Dawson has an unerring capacity for finding the caveat in joy and desolation, in light and darkness. His voice thins and strains with compelling force; partner Diane Christiansen’s is here a fragile ache, there a soothing croon of reassurance; and when they sing together, the two create an entirely new whole. – Harp Magazine