Sometimes it’s best to just put up a microphone in a room, sit down and play your guitar…
This is the record that Steve Dawson’s growing number of fans have been waiting for.
‘Rattlesnake Cage’ finally gives them the opportunity to hear Steve
interact with his guitar in a way that has never been captured on record
before. Until now, hearing the sweet melodies and deep soul of Steve
playing solo guitar has been a treat reserved for live audiences in
intimate settings. These new simple and unadorned recordings hearken
back to the ‘American Primitive’ sound that John Fahey and other artists
such as Peter Lang and Leo Kottke recorded on Fahey’s iconic Takoma
record label in the sixties – instrumental music informed by the deep
traditions of blues, ragtime, jazz and even Hawaiian music, but taking
those influences in unexpected directions. The opening track, ‘Blind
Thomas at the Crime Scene’ which takes its title from Fahey’s earliest
nom de plume is the recording that most clearly communicates Dawson’s
respect for the American Primitive aesthetic, and gives the listener the
clearest indication of what’s to come.
Recorded with a single vintage tube microphone that had recently been
rescued from decades of hanging from the ceiling rafters of an old
theatre in Detroit, you can hear every detail and nuance of each note.
The effect of hearing a recording this open and pure is quite
After countless successes in the industry both as a performer and
producer in his native Canada (including 7 Juno Awards as an artist and
producer), Steve has relocated to Nashville, Tennessee to begin a new
chapter in his career. ‘Rattlesnake Cage’ reflects all of the places
Dawson has been and everything he’s heard, resulting in some of the
loveliest melodies of his career as a recording artist. As much as
these songs can be unobtrusive and listened to in the background at low
volume, if a solo instrument is going to hold its own like this in the
spotlight, the music being played on it has to have very good bones, and
be able to stand up to some pretty intense scrutiny. For all their
simplicity and deceptive moments of tranquility, the closer you listen
to songs like ‘Lighthouse Avenue’ or ‘The Flagpole Skater Laughs From
Above’, the sooner you’ll realize that this is music with fire in its
belly. Fans of Reverend Gary Davis will recognize the musical
references in ‘Altar at the Center Raven’ that evokes an imaginary scene
at the pulpit where he preached. In the same way, ‘The Medicine Show
comes to Avalon’ bounces along a razor’s edge between antique and future
sounds with its heartfelt homage to the music of Mississippi John Hurt.
Yet, for all of the influences Dawson tips his hat to, the sound that
emerges on these recordings reflects a confluence of a lifetime’s
listening to and collecting vintage songs that fuses with Dawson’s
contemporary sensibilities and mastery of modern recording techniques.
In the same way you can recognize that it’s Bert Jansch, Ry Cooder,
or Mississippi John Hurt playing guitar after hearing just a few notes,
Steve Dawson has established a voice for his instrument that is as
distinct as any of theirs to become one of the most identifiable sounds
in modern roots music. The 11 songs on ‘Rattlesnake Cage’ represent our
first chance on record to hear Dawson explore the infinite possibilities
offered by his pallet of acoustic guitars – both 6 and 12-string
acoustics, a National tricone guitar, and a Weissenborn Hawaiian guitar –
without any effects, or even a human voice to separate him from his
audience. It’s rare to experience such direct communication in any kind
of music these days, but the songs on the record remind us that the
sound of a single instrument creating patterns out of the silence is as
old as music itself.
The fluidity of Steve’s playing makes what he does sound so
effortless that it’s easy to forget that it takes years of disciplined
practice to achieve such an apparent simplicity. There are lots of
guitar virtuosos out there who can reel off a dizzying array of notes at
lightning speed, and Dawson can certainly do that, but at a certain
point, great players like him realize that sometimes less is more.
Nothing on this record is superfluous. This is music that doesn’t show
off or needlessly strut its stuff. Like a perfectly aged single malt,
these compositions come to us fully seasoned and mature.
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