Eyes Closed, Dreaming
Some people made better use of their time in pandemic isolation than others. For Steve Dawson—a talented and prolific Canadian singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer-engineer-studio owner who has lived in Nashville for a number of years—2020 became a banner year for his personal creativity, as he recorded not one but three albums that he released subsequently: Gone, Long Gone; the dreamy, steel guitar-driven instrumental Phantom Threshold; and this most recent one, Eyes Closed, Dreaming. As with all of Dawson’s projects that I’ve heard, his layered guitars sit front and center in his always imaginative instrumental arrangements. But he’s also supported by a fine cast of other players and singers (including such “names” as singer-songwriter Allison Russell, mandolinist Tim O’Brien, and drummer Jay Bellerose) who help him navigate a nice variety of different styles, including straight-ahead fingerpicking folk (both traditional and modern), old-school Hawaiian, blues, and more. He and writing partner Matt Patershuk have four strong originals here (my favorite is “A Gift”); the rest are from the likes of Ian Tyson (“Long Time to Get Old”), Jack Clement (“Guess Things Happen That Way”), John Hartford (“Let Him Go On Mama”), and Bobby Charles (“Small Town Talk”).
But what a delight it is to be enveloped and caressed by Dawson’s sterling playing on an amazing assortment of acoustic, electric, and slide guitars, which he kindly ran down for AG: “While my memory is foggy at the best of times, I can pretty accurately remember that I used the following axes on this album: A 1953 Gibson J-50 does the bulk of the work on any acoustic parts, acoustic soloing, etc. That’s my main acoustic in the studio, but I don’t really bring it out on the road anymore. I used a Taylor LKSM-12 on ‘The Owl.’ On ‘Hemmingway’ I used a Martin Jeff Tweedy model. It’s kind of an odd guitar, but I love it for fingerpicking. Anything on the National [resonator] is likely a 1932 Style O. I used my friend Joe Pisapia’s nylon string guitar on ‘A Gift.’ Don’t know the model, but I’m pretty sure it’s kind of a cheapie. I have a couple Weissenborns, but the one I’ve played for over 20 years now is a Celtic Cross made by Neil Russell in Victoria, BC. I’ve beat it up pretty good over the years, but it’s still the most comfortable one I’ve ever played. And I used a Harmony Roy Smeck on a couple things. Smeck had a really high-end Gibson signature model that is worth a fortune now, and then he had a really crappy Harmony endorsement where they made the guitars out of cheap wood and leftover Sears’ countertop for binding. That’s the one I have, and I love it!”
All in all, a solid album with fabulous playing, a great vibe, and cool songs.
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