Steve Dawson

Rattlesnake Cage

Black Hen

dawsonThis is Canadian guitarist/producer/record-label head Steve Dawson’s second instrumental release, the first being 2008’s “Telescope,” which was the result of a grant to study pedal steel guitar under L.A. session man Greg Leisz. “Rattlesnake,” however, is strictly acoustic.

The album was recorded between tours and production work during the latter half of 2013. There were no overdubs or effects: just some fingers, slides and four guitars (a Larrivée Jumbo, Michael Dunn-built Weissenborn, National Tricone and Taylor 12-string) stuck in front of a Neuman M49 mic rescued after 50 years from a Detroit church.

There are shades of Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, John Fahey, Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Leo Kottke, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Rose in the 11 original compositions. Ragtime, fingerstyle, slide, gospel, resophonic, country — all manner of old-time guitar is here, recorded and mastered oh so well for optimum enjoyment.

A few of the tunes even have that authentic speed-up/slow-down thing, where the music sounds like a 33⅓ LP perfectly sped up to 45 or 78 rpm and then brought back to normal.

Slide fans will take special note of “Flophouse Oratory,” the title cut, “Butterfly Stunt,”  the interestingly titled “While the West Was Won, the Earth Didn’t Know It” and “Chunky.”gnm_end_bug

1. Blind Thomas At The Crime Scene
2. Flophouse Oratory
3. The Medicine Show Comes To Avalon
4. Rattlesnake Cage
5. Lighthouse Avenue
6. Butterfly Stunt
7. While The West Was Won, The Earth Didn’t Know It
8. J.R. Lockley’s Dilemna
9. The Flagpole Skater Laughs From Above
10. Chunky
11. The Altar At Center Raven

Total time: 41:26

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg


Tompkins Square

With the exception of a fiddle here and some bass there, two acoustic guitars are all one gets with this gem of an album (vinyl and download only) — but that’s plenty.

It’s a meeting of the intercontinental minds: Elkington, a British transplant living in Chicago the past 10 years, and Salsburg, who returned to his hometown of Louisville a few years back after a stint in New York.

Elkington was leader of The Zincs before starting The Horse’s Ha with Freakwater’s Janet Bean, and maintains a solo career. Salsburg is an archivist and producer for the Alan Lomax Archive; curator of the Twos & Fews vernacular-music imprint on Drag City Records; and host of the “Root Hog or Die” program on East Village Radio.

Combining British and rural American guitar traditions, “Avos” (a Russian word for the confident approach to new situations, and the faith that nothing tragic will occur once in them) draws comparisons not only to “American primitive”-style performers such as John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Peter Lang, Robbie Basho and Jack Rose, but also to British folk guitarists such as John Renbourn, Bert Jansch and Davey Graham.

Fortunately, Elkington and Salsburg’s simpatico relationship doesn’t result in a tribute to their common heroes; rather, it combines bits and pieces of their influences into a wildly fresh instrumental concoction that must be heard to be believed.

For the obsessives: Elkington uses a Martin 000-1 and a Rodriguez classical guitar, while Salsburg plays a Guild D4 and a Bourgeois JOM-V.

1. Hospitality
2. A Free Amft
3. Sedentary Song
4. Fez And Guinness
5. Romany Belle
6. Marjoram
7. Avos
8. Believer Field
9. The Blurring Cogs
10. Trois Poires
11. Straight Up And Down
12. The Queue Outside The Night Ministry
13. Scarborough Fore And Aft

Total time: 35:23

External links
Nathan Salsburg’s blog
Tompkins Square’s ‘Avos’ page
iTunes Store

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Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks

Tangled Tales


hicksThree studio albums into his 21st-century comeback, Hicks is squarely in the groove. Taken as a whole, the melodies, lyrics, vocals and musicianship on “Tales” are nearly as good as on 1972’s “Striking It Rich,” arguably the artistic zenith for his heady mixture of good-time/old-time swing, folk, country and jazz with a lyrical dose of wry humor that never fails to bring a smile.

From 1978’s “It Happened One Bite” to 2000’s “Beatin’ the Heat,” Hicks’ only release was 1994’s “Shootin’ Straight” with the Acoustic Warriors, from which he reprises five numbers here: “Who Are You,” “Savin’ My Lovin’,” “The Rounder,” “13-D” and “A Magician.”

Given that “Shootin’ Straight” is out of print, and since it was kind of botched by the unnecessary addition of studio drums (unless you were lucky enough to get the pre-official version from Hicks at one of his shows), it’s nice to hear those tracks rerecorded, some even guest-embellished by Charlie Musselwhite’s chromatic harmonica, Roy Rogers’ slide guitar and Richard Greene’s violin.

Guests on the rest of the disc include mandolinist David Grisman, guitarist Bruce Forman and accordionist Austin deLone, as well as Musselwhite, Rogers and Greene again. Hicks (who sings lead and plays rhythm) and a core group of two female backup singers, lead guitar, string bass, violin and drums comprise the classic Hot Licks lineup.

The four cover songs are “The Blues My Naughty Baby Gave to Me” aka “Blues (My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me),” a 1919 fox-trot that later became a Dixieland standard whose list of ways to get the blues has been expanded over the years to 17; “Song for My Father” (vocal version), the Horace Silver composition to which Ellen May Sashoyan added words in 1969 for Leon Thomas; the 1912 hit “Ragtime Cowboy Joe,” which Hicks tagged silly lyrics onto at the end; and Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” the perfect vehicle for  his rapid-fire vocal delivery.

The scat-singing title track and “Let It Simmer,” a laid-back lounge piece replete with strings and a whistling interlude, round out the set.gnm_end_bug

1. Who Are You?
2. The Diplomat
3. Savin’ My Lovin’
4. The Blues My Naughty Baby Gave To Me
5. Song For My Father
6. The Rounder
7. 13-D
8. Ragtime Cowboy Joe
9. A Magician
10. Subterranean Homesick Blues
11. Tangled Tales
12. Let It Simmer!

Total time: 49:51

External links
artists’ website
iTunes Store

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Howard Levy & Paul Sprawl

Howard Levy & Paul Sprawl


Two words: acoustic blues, mostly guitar and harmonica, the former provided by baritone singer/songwriter Sprawl — who didn’t name his record label Vagabond for nothing, having experienced the nomadic lifestyle to the point of living out of his van for a couple of years.

His pairing with chromatic-style diatonic harmonicat Levy (an original Flecktone) bears good and exotic fruit, as multi-instrumentalist Levy applies Southwestern, oriental and even Middle Eastern touches to several songs via Chinese flute and ch’eng (zither). Levy also contributes keyboards and saxophone.

The jewel in the crown is “Red Room,” a rollicking update of a song from Sprawl’s first release, “Blue Suitcase.” The song’s tempo alternates between slow and fast, while the guitar can’t decide if it wants to be fingerpicked, strummed or have a slide dragged across its strings and Levy overdubs barrelhouse piano and Hammond B-3.

Other highlights include the two instrumentals — Levy’s “Camel Parade” and the Levy-Sprawl co-write, “From Pismo to Evanston” — as well as the slide showcase “Breakfast in Beaumont” and “Edward’s Story” (aka “Hitler’s Guitar,” another reworking of a “Blue Suitcase” tune), about a “1938 Bavarian” once owned by Mick Jagger.

1. Good Morning Sunshine
2. Touch Of Evil
3. Good Times
4. Red Room
5. Edward’s Story
6. Camel Parade
7. Jean
8. Baywood Day & Night
9. From Pismo To Evanston
10. Breakfast In Beaumont

Total time: 49:21

External Links
artist’s link

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Adrian Legg


Favored Nations Acoustic

Legg, voted “best fingerstyle guitarist” by Guitar Player’s readers four years running (1993-96), delivers his least acoustic-sounding album for his 14th release.

Adorned with guitar synths and occasional strings and horns, Legg expands his traditionally miminalistic sound to new sonic heights — while maintaining an acoustic core. Drawing on youthful experiences, he uses his palette of strings to create an aurally impressionistic collection that tells “where I came from, where I am now and what I leave. I wanted to look back to before the guitar arrived in my own life as well as what has happened since and beyond it.”

Guitarist/producer Phil Hilborne (who helmed Legg’s previous effort) again recorded at his W.M. Studios in Pitsea, Essex, England. Hilborne informed Good New Music that despite the preponderance of what sounds like keyboards, “pretty much all the keyboard sounds on ‘Inheritance’ were played by Adrian using a Roland pickup on his guitar that was sent to a variety of sound sources.”

“In fact,” Hilborne told GNM, “the only track that had actual keyboards on it was … ‘English Blue’ that I played synth bass on. Of course, the trombones and strings on ‘Doublejigs’ and also on ‘A Waltz for Leah’ were real instruments. But other than that, it is all Adrian, particularly ‘Decree’: That was played in one take, in one pass using one guitar that was triggering about six sound sources: amp, digital interface and four synth channels.”

1. Nefertiti – What A Sweetie!
2. My Blackbird Sings All Night
3. A Waltz For Leah
4. More Fun In The Swamp
5. Nail Talk
6. Doublejigs
7. English Blue
8. Decree
9. The Good Soldier
10. Psalm With No Words
11. Emneth

Total time: 44.4 minutes

External Links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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