Steve Dawson & The Telescope 3. Phantom Threshold. Black Hen Music

Number two in a planned three album series for release this year, Steve Dawson’s second instalment finds him moving on from the rootsy guitar based songs on Gone, Long Gone to investigate the sonic possibilities of an instrumental album utilising, as usual, his armoury of all things stringed – acoustic and electric guitars, mandotar, national steel guitar, ukulele and, especially, pedal steel guitar. It’s quite a jump from the fatback tones of Gone, Long Gone to the ambient Americana contained here but with a little perseverance it’s well worth the leap.

Dawson has previously released several instrumental albums and the title of his backing band here (Jeremy Holmes -bass, Chris Gestrin – all manner of keyboards and Jay Bellerose – drums/percussion), alludes to his pedal steel based album Telescope which came out in 2008. Pedal steel is omnipresent in these tunes but it’s just one of the many sounds vying for attention as the quartet guilelessly wander through almost 50 minutes of music which is supremely contemplative.

A thread of pastoral, bucolic calm, runs through the first three numbers, reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s early, calmer days, and then a funky clavinet gives Ol’ Brushy a hint of southern sweat, not too far removed from The Meters’ early instrumental sides. The title tune has slight, oh so slight, washes of surf music in its veins and is followed by the most stripped back number so far, the basic pedal steel and accordion yearn which gives The Waters Rise an almost narcotic sea shanty lilt to it. That it’s then followed by the one cover version here, Brian Wilson’s You Still Believe In Me, begs one to look into how Dawson has put this album together and whether there’s more to it than meets the eye (or ear) but the familiarity of the tune is sufficient for a fine wallow in its sheer sumptuousness.

The temptation to allocate a sense of place or of some intent is difficult to resist when it comes to instrumentals so let us just say that there is a (very) slight touch of Hawaii in the first half of Tripledream – not too far removed from the exotica of Martin Denny – which is then punctured when the band are joined on cornet (by Daniel Lapp) giving the close of the tune a tipsy jaunt. Lily’s Resistor has 60’s spy movie guitar echoes and That’s How It Goes In The Relax Lounge is tantalisingly close to elevator music although, as with all of the tunes here, it’s much more textured and entertaining than the muzak it seems to emulate, especially when Lawson throws in an excellent electric guitar solo. Ending with a solo performance on a prepared Weissenborn guitar on Whirlwind, Dawson grounds the album somewhat, reminding one that he is au fait with the likes of John Fahey.

Instrumental albums (unless they’re by a universally accepted instrumental genius) are usually a tough sell and Phantom Threshold won’t appeal to all those who loved Gone, Long Gone. However, Dawson and The Telescope 3 have concocted quite a beguiling broth here and it will reward those who choose to partake of it.

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