Steve Dawson, of Vancouver and (as of late) Nashville, is Canada's leading roots-music impresario, a man who wears -- literally and metaphorically -- several hats. An exceptional musician himself, he heads the label Black Hen Music and organizes concerts such as a remarkable one held in honor of the Mississippi Sheiks, the great African-American string band of the 1930s (I reviewed the resulting DVD in this space on 12 March 2011). The all-original, all-instrumental Rattlesnake Cage showcases Dawson in a solo setting and on a variety of acoustic guitars.
It has spun innumerable times on my CD player, and it's hard to find fault with such superior music and splendid performance. I mean not the slightest disrespect, then, when I note that though neither man is mentioned, this could pass for a homage to John Fahey and his most famous acolyte, Leo Kottke. Fahey in particular was obsessed with the rural African-American music of the early 20th century, and though he never sang (probably because he couldn't), he created an affecting, ingenious sound out of the soul of the South.
The possessor of a droll sense of humor, he liked to attach oddly evocative titles to his material. So did Kottke on his early, most Fahey-shaded recordings. Dawson's pieces boast such monickers as "Blind Thomas at the Crime Scene," "The Flagpole Skater Laughs from Above" and "While the West Was Won, the Earth Didn't Know It." "The Medicine Show Comes to Avalon" is the ghost of the most famous resident of Avalon, Mississippi, a certain singer/guitarist named John Hurt.
It all makes for a welcome visitor to your ear. Dawson's playing is full and warm, and the broad familiarity of its approach should offend nobody, since I suspect that's the point. – Jerome Clark