It was as a guitarist that Dawson first gained a reputation. He emerged about 20 years ago with Jesse Zubot in Spirit Merchants. In this group, Dawson let fly with his slide guitar, and the debt it owed to the funky earthiness of Little Feat was obvious.
Then, Spirit Merchants disappeared. Dawson and Zubot emerged again as a duo, then went separate ways. Both started independent labels and became producers, Zubot pushing more progressive forms but Dawson goingback to his roots with his Black Hen and the records he’s made under the Black Hen umbrella.
That, more or less, is the goal of the Black Hen Travelling Roadshow Revue.
The bill is gifted acoustic blues man Alvin Youngblood Hart, versatile country singer Russell DeCarle, equally gifted and versatile blues singer Roxanne Potvin and headliner Dawson.
The Roadshow Revue stops this Saturday in North Vancouver at what once was known as the Cap Theatre.
This will be where Dawson gets a chance to remind everyone that he is a guitarist, not only a label owner and an acclaimed producer.
Among the local acts he has produced are Jim Byrnes, Linda McRae and, most recently, Christa Couture.
On this, Black Hen’s 10th anniversary, Dawson has released his newest album, Solid States and Loose Ends.
It’s both acoustic and electric blues, with a bit of funk and country. Dawson’s vocals flow as naturally and unaffectedly as his guitar playing, spanning the old and new effortlessly. When he sings Riley’s Henhouse Door, the listener feels the same delight as he must have upon discovering it. Most of the songs, though, are original and electric. Predictably, Dawson produced.
“It’s always tricky producing your own album,” he said. “Objectivity goes out the window.”
“It’s kind of hard to tell when you’re doing it by yourself,” he said of knowing when a track or an album is finished. “You have to be able to do that. I’d love to have a producer to tell me. Some day maybe I will, but right now I can’t afford it.”
What made his job as producer easier was being in the studio with great musicians.
“They’re so good I wouldn’t dream of telling them what to play,” Dawson said. “I know going in that what they’re going to do will be awesome.
“My biggest decisions were how I laid out the songs, and choosing the best performances.”
It’s been three years since Dawson moved from his home in Vancouver, where he’d already earned two Juno Awards among many accolades, to Nashville, which is where he was able to build the team that made Solid States and Loose Ends.
“That’s been an interesting part of the process, too,” he said.
His reputation as a producer had preceded him.
“I’m working with a lot of Canadians here, but I’ve been able to bring in a lot of Nashville musicians.”
The new album, then, can be interpreted as a restatement of where his music comes from, and a statement of where it could go.
“I wasn’t setting out to do anything other than the feel of the songs I was writing. I wanted something that reflected where I am right now.”