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Steve Dawson

Nightshade

(Black Hen / Fontana North; US: 29 Mar 2011; UK: 28 Mar 2011)

Virtuoso guitar picking is undermined by weak vocals

Steve Dawson’s brand of guitar-centric blues-pop is supported by capable musicianship, especially in regard to Dawson’s nimble fretwork and the fluid keyboards of Chris Gestrin. Dawson’s voice, however, fails to match the virtuosity of the other elements. Tending toward blandness, the vocals have the effect of sucking the life out of whatever song you’re listening to. It’s a shame, because tunes like “Torn and Frayed” and “Gulf Coast Bay” have real verve to them, and with a stronger singer at the helm, they could have been memorable indeed.


Dawson’s voice is better suited to moody numbers like “Darker Still”, in which his lack of range and power are less significant, and backing vocals are used to reinforce the anemic singing. There are good songs here, like “Nightshade”, with its dexterous guitar work, and the banjo-inflected “The Side of the Road”. However, despite the lively and varied sonic menu, the listener can’t help wishing for a vocalist whose dexterity matches that of the instrumentalists.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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