Chamber blues? Rapid-fire folk? The guitar and strings music within this Lucky Handcould be described several ways. In the hands of Vancouver, British Columbia’s Steve Dawson and his friends, every note of it either strikes, soothes, or mesmerizes. Sometimes, it accomplishes all of the above at once. In a word, it’s extraordinary.
Dawson’s a Berklee-schooled composer, multi-faceted slide guitarist, sought-after producer and ringleader, and the co-owner of the cool little label, Black Hen Music. For his eighth solo album, he’s re-connected with Jesse Zubot, the violin/mandolin half of Zubot and Dawson, a Juno Award-winning duo active from 1998 to 2002. Zubot leads a string quartet here with his brother Josh Zubot, also on violin; John Kastelic on viola; and cellist Peggy Lee. Horns and harp kick in occasionally, and subtly. Alongside Dawson, who plays a variety of guitars, they click spectacularly.
Opening with “The Circuit Rider of Pigeon Forge,” Dawson and the quartet establish one of the many ambiances presented, obviously wide-open to the possibilities before them. “Bentonia Blues,” with guest Charlie McCoy playing spiritual harmonica, feels like nighttime in the delta in Technicolor, just the two of them causing the blues at the root to come alive before your eyes. “Hale Road Revelation”—Dawson alone—elicits wonder at how one man can do what he does. “Old Hickory Breakdown” pits the guitar vs. the strings in a back and forth, with everyone ultimately victorious. For “Little Harpeth,” Zubot plays bluegrass mandolin beautifully, while in a gentle, decidedly non-bluegrass frame of mind. During “Hollow Tree Gap,” Dawson seems inspired by Jimmy Page in Led Zeppelin’s “Bron-Y-Aur-Stomp” by his curly-cues of notes. Strings on frets—the beauty is unlimited.
Play this album once and wonder. Play it twice and feel the pull. The third time, and the hooks will never let go. Leo Kottke and John Fahey come to mind at times throughout this wonderful record. But fans of players ranging from Jerry Douglas to Derek Trucks should devour it as well.