Steve Dawson might not be a name you immediately recognise but it's a fair bet that if you're an inveterate purchaser of the music reviewed on Americana UK that he was involved in a few of the CDs sitting on your shelves. A Canadian, Dawson has produced and played on albums by the likes of Jim Byrnes, Kelly Joe Phelps, Old Man Luedecke, The Sojourners, and The Deep Dark Woods. 'Rattlesnake Cage' is his sixth solo album, and while its predecessors were band efforts his sparkling guitar work, nimble, blues based, but with an inquiring mind and receptive to influences from all corners of the globe marked him down as having similarities to that musical maven, Gary Lucas.
On 'Rattlesnake Cage' Dawson sits alone with a collection of guitars (a Jumbo Larivee, a Weissenborn Hawaiian guitar, a National Tricone and a Taylor 12-String, luthier fans) in front of a fifty year old Neumann M49 microphone (rescued from a Detroit church) and evokes sounds and ghosts from the past. From the off one is reminded of the late John Fahey with the opening tune, "Blind Thomas At the Crime Scene" not only recalling Fahey's initial guise of Blind Thomas for his early Fonotone recordings but also his sometimes elaborate song titles. All well and good but the proof of the pudding is in the listening (so to speak) and the moment those guitar notes come tumbling out of the speakers we know we are in safe hands. Dawson delivers eleven instrumentals, all self penned, that are minor masterpieces of the art of solo finger picking blues guitar with cascades of notes flowing from his fingers. The use of various instruments, occasional slide and memorable tunes add variety to the whole and the recording is indeed audio verite with clunks and scrapes on the fret board captured. While Fahey looms large over the album his contemporaries such as Sandy Bull and Robbie Basho and his later friend Leo Kottke are probably the ones that Dawson is more indebted to as the album steers clear from Fahey's more extreme eccentricities. Dawson doffs his cap also to Fahey's progenitors, Mississippi John Hurt ("The Medicine Show Comes To Avalon" name checking Hurt's hometown) and the Reverend Gary Davis (with the closing tune, the sprightly "The Altar At Center Raven").
Overall this is a beautiful album for those whose idea of heaven is listening to Fahey et al with repeated listening revealing more of Dawson's skills each time, the current favourite here being "While The West Was Won, The Earth Didn't Know It." I'd say that every home should have one but if your most adventurous guitar picking album is Ry Cooder's soundtrack to 'Paris, Texas' then why not stretch to this and then go out on a limb for some Blind Joe Death.