Steve Dawson. Gone, Long Gone. Black Hen Music

A Canadian, now based in Nashville where he has his own Henhouse Studios and record label Black Hen Music, Steve Dawson has produced and played on umpteen roots album over the past ten years along with several well-regarded solo albums. Live, his most recent notable stint was as the third leg in Birds Of Chicago, playing well over 200 shows with them before live music was stopped in its tracks. Reactions to this clampdown varied but, like some of his peers, Dawson doubled down in his studio work to the extent that he now has three albums worth of music set to be unleashed this year, Gone, Long Gone the first of the three to be released.

Dawson’s 2016 album, Solid States And Loose Ends, drew comparisons with Ry Cooder and it’s true that Dawson shares similarities with Cooder in that he’s an expert in all manners of slide and roots guitar. Solid States And Loose Ends was in the same territory as Cooder albums such as Get Rythym and Bop Till You Drop but Gone, Long Gone, while still containing bluesy wallows -gutbucket and swampy at times – also has a brace of numbers which are more constrained while retaining Dawson’s affection for roots music. Perhaps the most obvious example is on the instrumental, Kalaniapa Waltz. Here Dawson plays electric and National guitar, a Weissenborn and ukulele on a number which has a Hawaiian influence in its stately and intricate tapestry of strings and things while Chris Gestin’s pump organ adds to its quiet majesty. The title song is another departure as Dawson turns in a song which is light and airy, his nimble picking and sweet pedal steel playing backed by a small string section with the song coming across as if Pentangle were playing a Jimmy Webb number. The lyrics do have that Webb like prairie lonesomeness to them and it’s pertinent here to note that most of the songs on the album are co-written with Matt Patershuk, a great songwriter whose albums Dawson has produced.

The album opens with a firm declaration of intent on Dimes with slide guitar sputtering into action before a horn section weighs in and Dawson, accompanied by Allison Russell on vocals, delivers an excellent Little Feat like slice of rock’n’roll gumbo. Russell (of Birds Of Chicago) sings on several of the songs on show here, adding a great soulful vibe to Dawson’s voice. There’s the tub thumping gyrations of I Just Get Lost, a song which twists and turns quite wonderfully recalling any number of late 60s combos who tried to combine blues, psychedelia and gospel into one big happy hippy tent. Six Skeletons In A Car vamps along with Dawson’s guitars in particularly wicked mood, twisting and snaking throughout and Bad Omen is a startling and snarling acoustic guitar blues number, full of  menace and voodoo vibes as the band inhabit a loose limbed New Orleans backdrop with groovy organ and skeletal drums. And, going back to that Cooder vibe, how can one resist a song dedicated to King Bennie Nawahi, a Hawaiian street performer, which is called King Bennie Had His Shit Together. Fats Kaplin’s fiddle and Kevin McKendree’s piano roll all over this loose-limbed frolic while Dawson’s slide playing snakes throughout.

There’s one cover song on the album. Ronnie Lane’s revered Ooh La La is given a reverential and somewhat restrained reading, which, for those familiar to the song, might take some getting used to. Ultimately however it does sink in, especially on the chorus (and you will have to join in) and Dawson’s guitars, Russell’s brilliant vocal accompaniment and the band’s skilful shuffle will eventually win you over. And, persevere to the closing number, Time Has Made A Fool Out Of Me, to see if those comparisons to Ry Cooder are ill judged. Dawson’s slide guitar here is quite sublime as he makes it throb and quiver with echoes of Pop Staples on a song which, surely, The Staple Singers would have taken on board.

Gone, Long  Gone is an excellent album and highly recommended. As we said above, it’s the first of three Steve Dawson albums due for release in the forthcoming months and, if they are anything like this, then we are in for a treat.

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3 thoughts on “Steve Dawson. Gone, Long Gone. Black Hen Music

  1. Pingback: Steve Dawson & The Telescope 3. Phantom Threshold. Black Hen Music | Blabber 'n' Smoke

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