Steve Dawson: Waiting for the Lights to Come Up

Stuart Henderson

Great sounding acoustic effort from Vancouver-based journeyman.

Steve Dawson

Waiting for the Lights to Come Up

Label: Black Hen Music
US Release Date: 2008-02-19
UK Release Date: Available as import

For a city-dweller -- Dawson hails from Vancouver, BC -- this record is thoroughly rustic. Spare, honest arrangements frame a series of generally well-crafted songs throughout this, Dawson’s second solo release (and first of two expected to drop this year). His famous proficiency on guitars is here on fine display, as is his much-improved voice, a thin rasp, like a very young Guy Clark crossed with an older Bruce Cockburn. His songwriting, meanwhile, explores a true fusion of genres, employing traditional, contemporary folk, and delta blues cues in equal measures. The result is a bit uneven, sort of like a series of genre experiments in uneasy sequence, but the individual effect of each track is powerful. Unfortunately, while the music is quite uniformly persuasive, Dawson’s lyrics tend toward unfocused, even awkward metaphor and phrasing: “Silence hits like a hurricane missing its mark” is a typical example.

What keeps this regrettable stuff mostly hidden is the crisp, spot-on production here. In short, this record sounds great. Dawson has taken up production duties himself, and has proven himself a master of acoustic studio work (keep an eye on him all ye aspiring folkies looking for someone to turn the knobs). To get a sense of his feel for the stuff, take a listen to the dreamy (if overlong) blues of “Fire Somewhere”. On this standout track, Dawson makes impressive use of his own accomplished slide guitar, while riding some excellent percussion work, letting each instrument dance off the other as the fire burns up, slowly, inexorably. The catchy “Ruin My Day” plays like a pop song run through the acoustic ringer and comes across beautifully for the effect. The hot, fast, trad-style instrumental “Hard to Get Gertie” is as fun to listen to as it likely was to play. And, the lilting “Hurricane” is arresting in its tragedy and beauty. If the lyrics were up to the level of the music on this release, it’d be an unqualified success. Dawson can also be heard in his impressive acoustic duo Zubot and Dawson, playing a weird and yet compelling brand of genre mind-meld, combining jazz, folk, trad, blues, and world musics into one unhinged “sound”. All his work is available through his self-run label, Black Hen Music.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.