OK, with this one it’s time to share some insights into the way my thoughts and feelings about new music turn into an article on a website. The starting point is that Music Riot doesn’t do negativity; you can get plenty of that anywhere else on the internet. We want to share good live and recorded experiences in the hope that a few music lovers will buy in to them and spread the word. So the first question is, do we like it and there’s only one way to decide that and that’s by listening to it; not once or twice, probably half a dozen times and make some good, old-fashioned, scrawled hand-written notes. At that point, I know whether I want to share it and I’ll probably have a look at the press release for the first time.

By now, you probably want to know what this has to do with ‘Phantom Threshold’. Fair question; after a few listens, it’s obvious that the eleven instrumentals on the album are all soundtracks for movies that haven’t been made and might never be made. The instrumentation (more about that a bit later) and structure of the pieces are cinematic in scope and depth and that’s the starting point for the press release. It’s always nice to know that you’ve tuned in to the artist’s creative vision, however limited your understanding of that vision might be.

Steve Dawson is one of those players in the mould of David Lindley that seems to see every stringed instrument as a challenge to be conquered; he plays a lot of pedal steel on ‘Phantom Threshold’, but there are some standard electric and acoustic guitars as well as resonators, a Weissenborn and a Marxophone. Yeah, I had to search it online as well – it’s a fretless zither and you probably remember the zither from the soundtrack of ‘The Third Man’. And we’re back into movie instrumentation territory again.

You might ask why a guitar player and producer would want to create an album full of mood instrumentals, but that’s missing the point; when you’re a player and writer as gifted as Steve Dawson, why wouldn’t you do it? And with his previous record, you know it’s going to be worth listening to.

‘Phantom Threshold’ is packed with innovative arrangements and classy but unfussy playing. The stylings range from solo pieces such as the album’s Weissenborn closer ‘Whirlwind’ and the pedal steel solo interlude ‘Burnt End’ to full-on band arrangements with layers of guitars and keyboards on most of the rest of the album. On a couple of tracks, including the opener ‘Cozy Corner’, the combination of organ and slide guitar hint at Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ era. While most of the titles hint at scenes, there are a couple that are more literal; ‘Tripledream’ is a piece in three sections, one of which is based around a New Orleans jazz styling, while ‘That’s How it Goes in the Relax Lounge’ starts with a lounge music feel before dipping into some Latin rhythms.

The complex arrangements on the full band pieces are even more impressive when you know that the musicians recorded their contributions remotely. Quite a feat of arrangement and stitching together, particularly when the opening track, for example, features seven different keyboard instruments on top of Steve’s guitars and the rhythm section. And clever is all very well, but Steve Dawson has created an album that you will want to listen to; you want to know what each new track is going to bring. There are so many different styles and textures that ‘Phantom Threshold’ never becomes predictable as it rattles off references to dozens of musical genres and sub-genres using most of the popular music instruments you’ve ever heard of and a few that you probably haven’t. It’s an album that musicians will love, but there’s something here for everyone and you’ll get something new from every listen.

‘Phantom Threshold’ is released on Friday August 12th on Black Hen Music (BHCD0097).

Here’s Steve playing live over the ‘Twig Bucket’ backing track: