This album has almost as many grooves as Steve Dawson has guitars. From the opening track, “Dimes”, reminiscent of Little Feat complete with a slippery horn arrangement and searing slide guitar to the solo, open-tuned acoustic guitar instrumental, Cicada Sanctuary, there is never a dull moment on this album.

Dawson, who has been a mainstay of Canadian roots music for a quarter century since getting together with Jesse Zubot in the ’90s, moved to Nashville from Vancouver eight years ago, set up his Hen House recording studio where he recorded and produced dozens of albums, including a half-dozen under his own name. 

While Dawson’s prowess on guitars of all shapes and sizes is not surprisingly the foundation of Gone Long Gone, it is also a showcase for the joint songwriting of Dawson and Alberta’s rising country singer Matt Patershuk, who started out as a recording client at the Hen House. Whatever they did long distance to get ideas percolating, it’s worked wonders.  

Dawson, who has delved into early twentieth century musicians such as the Mississippi Sheiks, pays homage to Hawaiian steel guitarist King Bennie Nawahi in “King Benny Had His Shit Together.”  Nawahi popularized Hawaiian music, even backed up the Sons of the Pioneers and went blind while driving home from a gig. With a ragtime feel and Fats Kaplin’s fiddle,  the rollicking tune is an apt tribute to Nawahi.

Two songs — “Bad Omen” and “16 Skeletons in a Car” — are bound to put a chill on your spine. “There’s a bad omen scratching at the door and I just let it in.”  I’m not sure what 16 Skeletons means, but that road is sure to lead to somewhere dark evil, and that electric guitar solo raises the song to another level. That tune should be handed to Tom Waits. 

Speaking of Hawaii, and attention slide guitar nerds, “Kulaniapia Waltz” is a beautiful melody inspired by those islands, where Dawson plays both Weissenborn and National guitars, and you can hear the difference. 

Dawson has assembled a fine group of backup musicians for this album, mostly  recording at a Covid-related distance from Vancouver, Toronto and Los Angeles.  His usual bandmates, Gary Craig on drums and Jeremy Holmes on bass, are complemented  by the likes of vocalist Allison Russell, Kaplin, violinist Ben Plotnick and Kevin McKendree on keyboards (including pump organ). 

This is the first of three albums Dawson has recorded during the two pandemic years. The next one, a dreamy, psychedelic pedal steel exploration, is due out in three months. I can hardly wait.  (Mike Sadava)