Phoenix Blues Society - BluesBytes Magazine

Rattlesnake Cage is the new release from Steve Dawson.  Dawson is responsible for some mighty fine blues and roots music releases from Black Hen over the past few years, including releases from Jim Byrnes, The Sojourners, and that wonderful Mississippi Sheiks tribute CD/DVD from a couple of years ago, serving as a producer/arranger/and guitarist.  Recently, he relocated from Canada to Nashville, and has released this outstanding disc, which consists of eleven solo instrumental tracks….just Dawson and his guitar.

The disc was recorded using a vintage tube microphone that was rescued from an old Detroit church.  The sound is amazingly clear and vivid, almost as if you’re in the room with Dawson as he plays.  It’s just a joy to listen to and fans of acoustic guitar will be blown away by this recording.  The challenge for most instrumental albums is that the music has to be solidly structured and distinctive, or it will just fade into the background.  That is not an issue at all for Rattlesnake Cage, as Dawson moves from 6 and 12-string guitar to National tricone to Weissenborn Hawaiian guitar, giving the music diversity and depth.

The opener, “Blind Thomas At The Crime Scene,” brings to mind the 60’s work of John Fahey and Leo Kottke and sets the table for what’s to follow.  “Flophouse Oratory” has a faster pace and a country blues feel.  “The Medicine Show Comes To Avalon” is a lovely tribute to Mississippi John Hurt’s gentle blues.  The brisk title track finds Dawson switching to resonator, and “Lighthouse Avenue” is a more reflective number.  The sound is really crystal clear on this track. “Butterfly Stunt” offers more exquisite slide guitar.  “J.R. Lockley’s Dilemna” is in a country vein, and fans of the Reverend Gary Davis will love the album closer, “The Altar At Center Raven.”

Rattlesnake Cage is a masterful set of acoustic guitar, with new treasures being revealed during each listen.  Steve Dawson makes it sound pretty effortless, but guitar fans will truly appreciate what an impressive work this is.

– Graham Clarke