The Georgia Straight
Steve Dawson’s fifth solo release leaves little doubt why he’s the local roots scene’s producer of choice: Nightshade is a gorgeously subtle recording, full of intimate shadings and nuanced details. On top of that, Dawson’s house band of Chris Gestrin on keyboards, Keith Lowe on bass, and Geoff Hicks on drums sounds like it’s on leave from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, or Memphis, Tennessee; rhythm sections this funky are rare north of the Mason-Dixon Line, let alone the 49th parallel. And though it’s hard to imagine, the leader’s guitars sound better than ever. Focusing on electric for the first time in aeons, Dawson splits the difference between Ry Cooder’s economy and Sonny Landreth’s flash, and that means he’s among the best slide players anywhere.
Questions remain about Dawson’s songwriting, however. Titles like “Torn and Frayed”, “Walk On”, and “Slow Turns” suggest that he’s not exactly exploring new dimensions in folk poetry, and that’s compounded by the fact that “Have That Chance” is just a Mick Jagger sneer away from the Stones’ “No Expectations”. Meanwhile, I had to check the fine print to confirm that the banjo-driven “The Side of the Road” was a Dawson original and not one of Tom Waits’s lesser works.
I don’t know if there’s a cure for this lack of originality; a writing partner, perhaps? Dawson’s singing continues to gain character and his instrumental skills are sublime, so that might be the missing piece that’s keeping this very accomplished musician from real greatness.