Canadian Folk Rocker continues high quality high production rate.
A third solo album from Steve Dawson in three years – and he has other side projects as well – might cause a slight twinge of nervousness for his listeners. That’s a lot of music in a short time – true enough, but Steve Dawson has pulled off the remarkable trick of being highly productive without losing a hold of the quality control, to the extent that this may be the best of the recent solo albums. There’s certainly a boost on the opener ‘Long Time To Grow Old‘ which features the distinctive vocals of Allison Russell on this warm and funky take on the Ian Tyson song. All the more remarkable that this is, like the two previous albums, a pandemic recording with ‘Eyes Closed, Dreaming‘ yes benefitting from a plethora of the Nashville-based Dawson’s musical friends and colleagues – but not recording together as in the way we’ve now become used to parts were recorded in various home studies in Nashville, Los Angeles, Toronto and Vancouver and then quite expertly stitched together to give a real feel of the sessions being recorded in person and very much together.
‘Eyes Closed, Dreaming‘ blends together a range of styles – there’s an atmospheric take on the traditional ‘House Carpenter‘ given an extra edge by Steve Dawson’s Weissenborn guitar and Tim O’Brien’s lively mandolin. There’s more Weissenborn as well as National guitar and ukulele on the jazzy instrumental ‘Waikiki Stonewall Rag‘ whilst the early blues of ‘Singin’ The Blues‘ adds a little electric guitar to those three instruments. It’s not all covers and traditional or early 20th century inspired music – there are four co-writes with Matt Patershuk that show some inspired storytelling. ‘The Owl‘ invokes a mysterious night scene and the stillness of an owl as it glides to land, and sleep, an allegory for a rare and precious intimacy: “You find her nestled in the sage / Her feathers wink with the dew / You creep slow, lest she awake / Perhaps she was waiting for you.” On ‘A Gift‘ it is the passing on of a treasured Swedish Steel Knife to the next generation, in a box carefully handcrafted to make it secure – it’s the passing on of traditions, of course, but there’s an infinite familial care embodied in the making of the gift. The same care required in the raising of a child to be able to survive in the world without your help or, eventually, presence. ‘Hemingway‘ imagines a conversation with the writer which revolves around embracing directness and honesty and knowing oneself for good or bad “we think we’re so damn smart / Talking trash that don’t come from the heart / Lie to yourself but not too well.” The final new song ‘Polaroid‘ also examines the nature of truth – as the slow revealed soft focus of a Polaroid image is extolled as presenting some kind of insight into its subject that modern techniques can’t achieve “Took some pictures the other day but they ain’t the same / A little too sharp and they’ve been cropped to fit the frame / Too right to be a memory, not made in real time.”
To take an eclectic mix of ancient folk, modern singer-songwriter, a dash of jazz and early blues and make it come out as a coherent album is no small feat. On ‘Eyes Closed, Dreaming‘ that is what Steve Dawson has achieved – and it’s an excellent listen because of that.