In 2008, Steve Dawson gained national attention for producing Things About Comin’ My Way, a tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks—the pioneering string band founded by the Chatmon brothers in 1930. Featuring stirring performances from a host of superb guitarists (including Kelly Joe Phelps, Bruce Cockburn, Bill Frisell, and Bob Brozman), the album is both an aural delight and an inspiring collection of edgy songs.
Now with Nightshade, the Vancouver-based Dawson proves he has his own story to tell. His songs offer a compelling blend of tight grooves and dark, haunted lyrics, but it’s the guitar playing that stops me in my tracks. Whether he’s fretting gritty solos, playing burning bottleneck blues, laying down wicked Weissenborn licks, or soaring on pedal steel, his timing, tone, and dynamics are impeccable. While always serving the ensemble, Dawson’s multi-faceted picking plays the starring role in this 12-song collection.
If you dig Greg Leisz’s pedal steel, you’ll smile as Dawson sonically conjures a Lava Lamp on “We Still Won the War.” If your thing is early Kelly Joe Phelps or Ben Harper, you’ll hear echoes of their sweetly stinging bar work in “Fairweather Friends,” “Darker Still,” and the album’s title track. Throughout Nightshade, Dawson also draws on Steve Cropper, Leo Kottke, Dominos-era Eric Clapton, and the more pensive side of Jimi Hendrix to create a soulful guitar orchestra.