“I don’t think I’m turning into a country artist or anything like that,” Steve Dawson says with a laugh. “But there’s definitely some southern twang.”
Dawson, is referring to his latest album, Solid States and Loose Ends—the follow-up to 2014’s Rattlesnake Cage—which leans more towards a country categorization than his previous folk-roots releases. Some of that influence might be a consequence of his departure from Vancouver to Nashville, TN three years ago, where he now resides with his wife and daughter.
“I think in some ways [Nashville] has [had] an effect [on my music], and some of the players that I’m playing with have definitely grown up playing that kind of thing and so that has an effect,” he says, calling from a tour stop in Penticton, BC. “But I’ve always been into old blues and old country, and ragtime and gospel.”
Part of that shift in sound meant a move away from doing another album single-handedly—something that Dawson has been accustomed to doing, as evident with his previous six albums where the music, recording and production were all done by himself. (Dawson is involved in other musical endeavours—including producing at his own studio Black Hen Music, that require him to work with other people. But for his own stuff, he prefers working on his own.)
“My last album was all acoustic, guitar, instrumental music. I wanted to do something totally different,” he explains. “I wanted to have a nice solid, aggressive rhythm section and perform these songs with some likeminded people that I’ve been playing a lot with [in Nashville]. So we have a full-band sound with drums and keyboards and the whole nine yards.”
At its crux, the album survives the roots-folk that Dawson established at the outset of his career, but some tracks have a swampy southern blues quality to them. Much of that can be attributed to the inclusion of a full band featuring a crew of musicians from Nashville: Kevin McKendree (keyboards), Fats Kaplin (viola, fiddle, mandolin and accordion), Jim Hoke (sax), Steve Herrman(trumpet), Mike Bub (upright bass), the McCray sisters (backing vocals) and Keri Latimer (backing vocals), along with Toronto’s Blackie and the Rodeo Kings’ Gary Craig on drums and John Dymond on bass.
On previous records, Dawson was in charge entirely in the process from the instrumentation to the production and mixing, with little involvement from outside members. Solid States saw a collaborative effort between Dawson and his fellow musicians, allowing them to voice their opinions on their respective parts.That process took four days, which saw the band members—minus the singers—together in Dawson’s studio, rehearsing the tracks one at a time. That process allowed the music to develop in an organic way withwhat Dawson describes as very interesting and unexpected results. For example, on “Loose Ends” there is an unconfined quality to it, Dawson notes, which comes from “letting it go” and inserting longer instrumental sections (something Dawson acknowledges he wouldn’t typically do if he was producing someone else’s music).
“I like the solo thing because it’s a form of musical expression that I think is interesting and enjoyable. But it’s also isolating working by yourself on something,” he says. “[Working with others] It’s more social and engaging, and ideas fly around. I’m at the helm ultimately, but there’s input from musicians and players about their parts, and that’s what gets really fun about the process. You can’t plan a lot of that stuff out—it just happens. You can be prepared and have a certain amount of planning in place but ultimately when you get a group of people in a room together it’s unpredictable what’s going to end up happening. If you can not worry about what those results be and let it happen, the results can be very interesting and unexpected.”