Canadian guitarist Steve Dawson is rapidly becoming one of my favorite guitar players with a string of great recordings of predominantly original music. The album features 10 originals and 4 covers. Dawson’s original songs are far more complex than on the prior offering Rattlesnake Cage. There the songs were solo acoustic and much more sparse; they were great but we get a real contrast with the more fleshed out accompaniments. Gary Craig on drums and John Dymond on bass are the solid backline. Dawson’s vocals have grown and are finely textured here, plus he has excellent support from Keri Latimer and the superb McCrary Sisters. The rest of the supporting cast are noted as I go through the songs below; suffice it to say that they are experienced and well up to the task! This is a well developed and executed album!
Loose Ends opens things up and Dawson lets loose with some wickedly sweet electric slide guitar. Backed by a large ensemble on this cut, the production is well done and the players and backing vocalists are together. The McCrary sisters are top notch accompaniment. Dawson offers some sultry and suave vocals, too. The next cut, “Broken Future Blues,” is more scaled back with only drums and bass in support. He picks out some mean acoustic guitar here and the song bounces along nicely. He layers some nicely done electric guitar in the mix, too, and solos well on both guitars. His finger picking is fabulous. Things slow down with “Leave My Name Behind;” Dawson is on National steel and electric guitars and the McCrary sisters return to vocally back Dawson. Fats Kaplan adds a unique viola to the song and has an intriguing solo and Jim Hoke’s sax work adds to the appeal, too. The song builds intensity using Dawson’s guitars, first on the National and later on the electric guitar. Dawson expands his repertoire and plays the National Steel, electric and pedal steel guitars and a pump organ. He opens and closes with the National, giving us a sweet, country porch sort of sound to the cut. Keri Latimer joins in on the vocals she and Dawson blend nicely on the choruses. The pedal steel arrives around mid way through for a sentimental solo. Well done!
“On Top of the World” feature Kaplan on fiddle and Mike Bub on upright bass. Dawson again adds some guitar lamentations via the pedal steel and also adds depth with other instruments, but the fiddle and peddle steel set the mood and tone so well here as Dawson swings country style for us. “Little Silver” features some slick finger picking by Dawson on acoustic and pedal steel guitars. Dawson goes solo on vocals and acoustic slide in the cool traditional ditty from Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers “Riley’s Henhouse Door,” the first of the covers. He does some more really nice finger picking here. “Final Words” is an original with the tempo going way down and the mood following. He does some very good slide work and breaks out the mellotron for a little fill on keys with Kevin McKendree’s piano and farfisa. The guitar, organ and vocals play off each other quite well. The second traditional cut is Riley Puckett’s “Can’t Put That Monkey on My Back.” McKendree on piano and Kaplan on mandolin join Dawson’s electric slide for another tight track, a very bouncy and fun cover. “Early Warning” is a dark and somber tune with Dawson on acoustic guitar and mandolin with he and the McCrary sisters on vocals. McKendree’s organ also has a haunting solo as Dawson sings.
Joe Tex’ “Got What It Takes” is a big slide guitar piece with very sweet horns; Jim Hoke on saxes and Steve Herman on trumpet do a standout job as does Kevin McKendree on organ. “Driver’s Wheel” has Dawson on the Weissenborn lap slide guitar which sound oh-so-nice, especially when he trades licks with Fats Kaplan’s fiddle. Keri Lattimer joins him on harmony again, adding a lot to the vocal mix. This is a very cool track! “Delia” is the last traditional/cover with basically the same crew and instrument as the last track except Kaplan switches to mandolin and Mike Bub returns on upright bass. A very down-home sound is offered up here with a great mix of mandolin, electric guitar, lap slide, and the thump of the upright bass. Lattimer and Dawson again excel on vocals in this upbeat and bouncy tune. The album closes to “Rose’s Blues” where Dawson gives us electric and acoustic guitar along with his dobro. Kaplan is again on mandolin and adds some accordion. Latimer gives Dawson some deep, slightly distorted vocal support. The dobro is used effectively in solo and support work along with the mandolin and guitars. The last cut is quite interesting and sublime.
This is a very big album, especially when you compare it to the more bare boned prior release by Dawson on Black Hen Records. The last one was nominated for a Blues Blast Music Award and this one is perhaps even better and could be slated for more accolades. I think Dawson is the real deal. A great session performer, his original solo and front man for a band work is exceptional and shows that he has a bright and wonderful career ahead of him! Of course his already having received 7 Juno awards as an artist and producer out of his 18 nominations shows he’s already being recognized for his fantastic work. This native of Vancouver who now resides in Nashville is at the top of his game. I strongly urge you to check him out!