Steve Dawson’s latest album, Rattlesnake Cage, and is due out on February 18. If you are lucky enough to be in Canada in the next few months, you’ll have the opportunity to hear his sublime and gutsy musicianship live. (He’ll be making several touring stops in Canada in the Spring of 2014.) As for the rest of us, we will have to settle for this meticulously produced album of intimate solo acoustic guitar performances by the distinctive musician and songwriter.
Rattlesnake Cage is an all-instrumental guitar album, recorded using a single microphone. There is nothing extraneous here; every note is as necessary as a word in your favorite poem. The songs are simple, uncluttered and sparse, yet full of emotion and attitude. Dawson’s fingers seem the picking equivalent of Fred Astaire’s feet, knowing when a rollicking riff is called for, and knowing when to just lets things glide. It’s a tour de force performance and I can only imagine what the additional layer of seeing him “live” does to upping the artistry even higher.
On the album, Dawson plays various acoustic guitars, including six-strings, 12-strings, a National tricone steel guitar and a Weissenborn Hawaiian guitar… all without calling undue attention to the fact. The variety of instruments chosen shade each song with just the right flavor, with each guitar chosen acting as nothing less than a voice singing the given song.
It’s easy to hear the influence of other, previous masterful guitarists, especially John Fahey and Leo Kottke. By combining his appreciation of past performances with modern recording capabilities and his own brand of technique, Steve Dawson brings the art of the solo guitar into the contemporary era. It is slightly dizzying to think of how significant that is, especially considering how easily the art of bottleneck guitar playing could slide away into the past.