Known as one of Canada's leading roots music producers, Steve Dawson has enjoyed a parallel career as an acoustic player of considerable distinction. Rattlesnake Cage confirms his high reputation as it veers into the exploratory instrumental terrain staked out by John Fahey, Peter Lang, and Leo Kottke in the late '60s. Like those legendary artists, Dawson blends blues, ragtime, and jazz elements into evocative pieces of gem-like beauty. The playing here is at once vigorous and delicately wrought, captured without overdubs by a single vintage tube mic. Dawson achieves subtle colors on a variety of instruments, including National Tricone and Weissenborn Hawaiian guitars. His talents as a composer are evident in tunes like "Blind Thomas at the Crime Scene" (a flowing neo-rag inspired by Fahey). "The Medicine Show Comes to Avalon" (a homage to Mississippi John Hurt that's as spry and quaint as its title), and "The Altar at Center Raven" (buoyant and resonant in the manner of the Rev. Gary Davis). These performances are filled with fluent grace and genuine warmth.