All-instrumental albums are entering the mainstream as players move beyond merely accompanying vocalists to looking for ways to bring their virtuosity more to the fore. Steve Dawson is not only a master of all things stringed, he also wants to push the boundaries of composition for these instruments. Lucky Hand is the latest manifestation of that search. He’s joined here by several guest artists, most notably a string quartet, led by old friend and duo partner Jesse Zubot as one of the violinists and the arranger. The press release describes the music as ‘Doc Watson and Charlie Patton jamming together’ and the opening song might be more Doc Watson, but “The Circuit Rider Of Pigeon Forge” has some wonderful finger picking and an arresting string quartet arrangement. “Bentonia Blues” is based on some Skip James minor key melodies with Dawson just amazing on National slide, accompanied by Nashville legend Charlie McCoy on harmonica, a major highlight. “Bone Cave” has Dawson back on slide, starting with a Robert Johnson lick that quickly develops into something quite different and with another attractive quartet accompaniment, augmented subtly by French horn. “Hale Road Revelation” departs from a John Hurt starting point. “Bugscuffle” sees Dawson playing his Weissenborn in an unusual tuning concluding the album solo. The five songs with string quartet are interesting in that they don’t just accompany Dawson’s guitars - on a couple of occasions you are even drawn to the quartet playing at the expense of Dawson’s guitar – Zubot and Dawson are still full partners in that sense! The star of the show, though, is Dawson and may he give us many more! Lucky Hand will be available in stores and online June 15th. Dawson’s Black Hen Roadshow Vol. 3, with Steve Marriner,Ndidi Onukwulu & Leeroy Stagger got to Winnipeg before heading westwards again but maybe it’ll come east soon.