Steve Dawson moved to Nashville a few years ago but the slide guitarist remains a formidable Can-rock roots musician and studio producer. In the midst of launching the latest incarnation of his Black Hen Travelling Roadshow Revue, the venerable blues shredder steps into his relatively new role as a live music curator.
The blues showcase tour features Prairie Oyster’s Russell deCarle, bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart and Montreal singer Roxanne Potvin.
The talent is there, says Dawson, but anything could happen once the group steps on stage.
“I have no idea how things are really going to come together, but they’ll just end up happening because when you’re on stage you might as well do something and go for it,” says Dawson. “You can’t plan for everything but sometimes it works out.”
Not that anyone in the audience, or Dawson for that matter, should expect anything less than perfection. Potvin and Hart represent some serious roots and blues talent, while deCarle has amassed an impressive array of Juno Awards and hit songs with Prairie Oyster along with his solo album Under The Big Sky released in 2010. Dawson says that typically it’s the unexpected quirks of the performers that make for the most interesting moments.
“Expect a show in the same way that a festival workshop booker might throw people on stage together,” says Dawson. “They might not know each other but the results are always interesting.”
With its solo performances, collaborations and moments of improvisation, Black Hen is also a fitting vehicle to introduce Dawson’s latest record to audiences across Canada. Titled Solid States And Loose Ends, the LP is record number seven for the Juno award winning artist.
Dawson says the full-band-backed songs are strongly realized instrumentally — not shocking, given who’s playing on them. But anyone familiar with the bluesman’s work will hear the familiar elements. Swirling bouts of frantic slide guitar frame Dawson’s melancholic lyrics. His voice blends blues and folk singing styles with a hint of noir and a creep of country twang — something that could be credited to living in Nashville.
Having worked with highly-lauded musicians in the studio — his C.V. includes Jill Barber, Colin James and Saskatchewan roots jammers The Deep Dark Woods — Dawson has always been keenly aware how to achieve those vintage sad-song sounds, both on record and on the stage.
It’s a skill he’ll use on this tour.
“We’ll be playing stripped down versions of the songs, but the show is meant to be off the cuff and loose,” says Dawson. “Along with a rhythm section, the group [plays] solos and collaborates, while the audience gets a taste of what each musician can do.
“And they need to be able to improvise a bit,” he continues. “I might get them to play bass or mandolin, or whatever. We’ll be mixing up the styles a lot, so who knows what will happen.”
Good things, almost certainly.