Canadian musician and producer Steve Daw- son’s latest solo album, Rattlesnake Cage, is an entirely instrumental effort. With deft playing and songcraft, the recent Nashville transplant has created an album of gorgeous subtlety—each composition tells a story with- out Dawson uttering one spoken word.
The album was recorded without over- dubs and using only a vintage microphone salvaged from a Detroit church, and the sound quality is bright and immediate, even on CD. It’s possible to hear Dawson gently scraping against his guitars as he plays; rather than detract from his performances, this adds to their presence and intimacy. Every plucked string rings distinctly, and Dawson’s elegant, sensitive playing is a delight to the ear.
Dawson’s evocative song titles hint at some of his many influences. The sprightly Blind Thomas at the Crime Scene brings to mind John Fahey, The Medicine Show Comes to Avalon recalls the gentleness of Mississippi John Hurt,
and The Altar at Center Raven evokes the Rever- end Gary Davis. On Flophouse Oratory, one can almost hear the insistent voice of the speaker vi- brating through the strings; The Flagpole Skater Laughs from Above shifts mysteriously between moods. The title track starts out ominously and then slithers off briskly with some nimble slide work. Lighthouse Avenue is placid and wistful; Butterfly Stunt is a flight of fancy spun off of I’ll Fly Away.
Instrumental albums sometimes suffer from sonic homogeny, but thankfully Dawson manages to avoid that here. Beautifully and skillfully executed, Rattlesnake Cage should reward the listener with new insights each time it’s opened.