Don't know if Steve Dawson has always been so hot a commodity, but he certainly is now. Between sitting in, producing, writing, engineering, and then gathering impressive as hell tribute concerts, he also manages to put out solo releases like Nightshade. I remain impressed by the Mississippi Sheiks tribute gig (here) and will remain so for quite some time to come, so I'll mention that again before proceeding: to date, it may be the best gatherum of everything this guy's capable of, on all fronts, not to mention a storm front of killer exposition from everyone. Nightshade, however, is a much mellower affair than the incandescent levels the guy is capable of and which shone through on Sheiks due to Dawson's backboning of the enterprise. Ya can't burn the candle at both ends forever less'n you want a nervous breakdown or a quick exit, so this is a welcome respite venturing into the man's more rhythmically relaxing side.Doesn't mean he ain't serious even when he's creatively taking five, though. The sidewalk sway of Walk On incorporates a good deal of Grateful Dead, and then there's the Jackson Brown-esque Have that Chance cut burnished with a sidecar of Levon Helm, not to mention a searing slice of Dawson's trademark slide solos. The CD's cover itself suggests the mood: a nighttime deep blue railroad depot Katrina-esquely mirrored in a distended reversed image, Dawson blackly opaqued in the foreground with what first appears to be flames crawling up the image. A second look reveals the tongues of "fire" are actually comprised of a vine garland, golden leaves ascending into a figure volatilizing into nebulous stars—in other words, a deceptive blaze can ignite when you least expect it.
Besides his Appalachian blue-tick-hound vocals lazing in the afternoon, settling down in the evening, the most omnipresent seal of Dawson's mega-talents tends to be those forever perambulating guitars of his, and let me tell ya, Jeremiah, this Canadian Royal Mounted Musician knows that fretboard with a sixth sense. Tracking himself in layers, Steve weaves a sometimes-haunting sometimes-vivacious always-expert three-dimensional matrix pregnant with rural sophistications that are often deceptive despite any number of fascinations. He and an emerging vanguard of seasoned vets are re-defining what it means to be consummate in the roots genres.