Steve Dawson — Gone, Long Gone
While the pandemic wasn’t good for anyone (with the possible exceptions of the folks who make cloth masks, webcams and absurdly large television news desks), plenty of people used the time to work on long-neglected projects which are just now starting to see the light of day. Canadian guitarist/touring musician/producer/podcaster Steve Dawson found himself at home with most of his work dried up in early 2020, which gave him enough time to produce three(!) albums worth of material. The initial collection, Gong, Long Gone, gives us Dawson’s first extended effort at co-writing songs while highlighting his skill at all manner of stringed instruments, and it ends up being the first great guitar album of 2022.
The album kicks of with “Dimes,” a fun, horn-stacked tune about fooling yourself into thinking more is better – “I’ll take this last dollar that I got/And turn it into dimes..Cuz everyone knows 10’s more than one.” Joining Dawson on vocals (here and on several other tracks) is fellow Canadian Allison Russell, with whom Dawson played in Birds of Chicago. Russell is a great presence in anything that she does, but the real treat on Gone, Long Gone is Dawson taking center stage with his guitar work. Here it’s a cool slide solo, but there’s examples of it spread across the album.
Dawson’s love of guitars of all shapes shows up in “King Benny Had His Sh!t Together,” a tribute to Hawaiian street musician “King” Bennie Nawahi, who lived an almost mythical life that Dawson imagines him telling to a disbelieving audience in his later days. Dawson (who also produced the album) pairs his slide work with a fiddle solo from Fats Kaplin. The overall braggadocious fun of the tune reflects Dawson’s love of Hawaiian music, which resurfaces in the instrumental “Kulaniapia Waltz,” featuring Dawson on ukulele.
In the past, Dawson has found the process of co-writing “uncomfortable,” but he and Alberta songwriter Matt Patershuk co-wrote all of the originals on Gong, Long Gone (save the two instrumentals), and the pairing results in some excellent storytelling. “6 Skeletons in a Car” is aswampy tune driven by Dawson’s Weissenborn and two drummers, relating a late-night encounter with six drunk teens in a spun-out car – “Who knows what might come after the drive into the unknown.” The eerie chaos is furthered by a Robert Earl Keen reference and a swirly organ line from Chris Gestrin, then topped off by a turbulent electric solo. And the best moments on the record are the guitars – lots of ‘em. A cover of The Faces’ “Ooh La La” brings back Russell on vocals, along with Dawson’s daughter Casey, but it all hinges on the fantastic guitar work – here, it’s acoustic, electric, and Dawson’s National, a resophonic guitar, played here like a slide. It’s an easy, breezy listen that belies the layers of skill and care that went into creating it. Dawson knows which ax to pull off the wall for every moment on Gong, Long Gone, making this record a guitar-lover’s dream.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: I’m a resonator kinda guy, so anything that features Dawson’s National is good by me, but “I Just Get Lost” also features slide, Wurlitzer, pump organ (a highly underrated instrument) and Allison Russell. I’ll take it all, please.
Gong, Long Gone was produced, recorded and mixed by Steve Dawson and mastered by Andrew Downton. Additional musicians on the album include Gary Craig (drums, percussion), Jeremy Holmes (electric bass, upright bass), Kevin McKendree (organ, piano, Wurlitzer), Allison Russell (vocals), Jerry Cook (baritone sax), Dominic Conway (tenor sax), Malcolm Aiken (trumpet), Jay Bellerose (drums, percussion), Fats Kaplin (fiddle), Ben Plotnick (violin, viola), Kaitlyn Raitz (cello), Chris Gestrin (pump organ, organ, synthesizer, Mellotron), Keri Latimer (vocals) and Casey Dawson (vocals).
Enjoy our recent interview of Steve here: Interview: Steve Dawson and the Catharsis of Songwriting
Go here to order Gone, Long Gone (out March 18): https://www.stevedawson.ca/store
Check out tour dates here: https://www.stevedawson.ca/tour