Not sure quite where to file Steve Dawson's Rattlesnake Cage? Try 'B' for Brilliant. Or Beguiling. Or perhaps 'F' for Fascinating, or 'E' for Endlessly Engaging?
The point is, the music on Rattlesnake Cage literally defies categorization. A solo excursion by Dawson, captured spontaneously and presented without overdubs or effects, it's an absolutely dazzling collection of acoustic explorations.
Dawson, the man behind the Vancouver-based Black Hen label, is an absolute string wizard. As a producer, he generally graces recordings with subtly tasteful and always evocative contributions on an impressive array of arcane stringed instruments - in addition to all manner of guitar, banjo, ukulele, pump organ, glockenspiel(!), and pedal steel, his arsenal includes mandocello, mellotron, marxophone, and mandotar
Here, though, Dawson restricts himself to guitar, employing a jumbo Larivee, a hand-built Weissenborn, a National Tricone, and a Taylor 12-string. His playing is utterly impeccable, but aside from technical mastery there's a buoyant sense of vigorous life to it.
There are always echoes of the blues in Dawson's work, but here they serve only as the most basic of foundations. He's far too adventurous to confine himself to format, but his music is firmly anchored in all things rootsy. (He's produced blues, country, gospel and folk artists, including an all-star celebration of The Mississippi Sheiks). It's both cerebral and accessible, appealing to the head and the heart but never forgetting that, in the end, music should lift spirits and get toes tapping.
With song titles like "Blind Thomas At The Crime Scene," "While The West Was Won, The Earth Didn't Know It," and "The Flagpole Skater Laughs From Above," one can safely assume Dawson isn't confined by convention. But while Rattlesnake Cage (another song title) is an all-instrumental collection, they're all songs, peppered with surprising twists and turns but possessed of a lively rhythmic vitality and a strong melodic core.
Rattlesnake Cage is indeed something special, something quite extraordinary. Very highly recommended!