A man, a microphone, and four different guitars: these are the basic ingredients of Steve Dawson’s Rattlesnake Cage, but there’s more to this recipe than meets the eye. The guitars are all handmade masterpieces, the microphone is a classic Neumann rescued from the rafters of a Detroit church, and the man has spent most of his life developing his tone and touch, all of which make the Nashville-based Vancouverite’s first true solo release a wonderful foray into what’s often called the American Primitive style of guitar music.
Truth be told, that title has always been something of a misnomer. Genre founder John Fahey’s early recordings were admittedly crude, but his compositions weren’t, while his more popular follower Leo Kottke had a truly virtuosic right hand. Dawson plays homage to both of those pioneers here, along with latter-day slide radical Sonny Landreth and bluesy progenitor Mississippi John Hurt, but he’s no copyist, bringing a kind of cinematic sensibility to the table that is his own. As titles like “Blind Thomas at the Crime Scene” and “The Flagpole Skater Laughs From Above” suggest, these 11 brief instrumentals play out as enigmatic mind movies—and very enjoyable ones, too.