Steve Dawson & the Telescope 3- Phantom Threshold review

Steve Dawson & the Telescope 3 Phantom Threshold Black Hen

Steve Dawson has been creating and recording innovative folk roots music for twenty-five years, and during that time—and notably the last decade—has seldom repeated himself.

With the release of Phantom Threshold, he has paired with Jay Bellerose (drums and percussion), Jeremy Holmes (basses, including URB), and Chris Gestrin (keys, including but not limited to Wurlitzer, organ, pump organ, Moog, and synths)—each of whom were central to the Gone, Long Gone masterpiece released late this past winter, as well as Telescope from some years ago—to explore both types of music, country and western, in a pedal steel immersed collection of instrumentals.

Naturally, Dawson’s interpretation of the pedal steel sounds of classic 60s and 70s productions isn’t of the overtly slick, mainstream variety. Rather, he has filtered the approaches of previous generations through his personal and slightly psychedelic lens, creating an invigorating set of ten originals that recall Muscle Shoals as much as Bradley Barn.

Gentler numbers including “The Waters Rise,” “Lily’s Resistor,” “Tripledream,” and “Cozy Corner” may remind some of Calexico, Giant Sand, or the similarly inspired. More aggressive although equally expansive are pieces such as “Ol’ Brushy,” “Burnt End,” and “Phantom Threshold.”

The tunes could serve as soundtrack to a Harry Dean Stanton production of a Larry McMurtry novel. Dawson co-wrote “The Waters Rise” with Fats Kaplin, who contributes accordion to the piece while also offering banjo and fiddle to the title track with Dawson playing all the guitars (pedal, electric, acoustic, steel slide) across the recording, as well as mandotar, marxophone, mellotron, and ukulele.

Recording remotely in homes and studios in Nashville, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and on Pender Island, the individual musicians’ tracks were ably mixed (by Matt Ross-Spang) in Memphis as a cohesive, grooving album. The production qualities—as they are on all Dawson-related recordings—are impressive

The album’s sole cover is Pet Sounds’ “You Still Believe In Me.” There are several spots on the album where one wishes there were vocals to singalong with, but this isn’t one of them; the instrumentation here—especially Gestrin’s Wurlitzer and melodica, if I am discerning accurately—takes us on a journey of celestial enlightenment unbound by lyrical constraint.

John Rummen’s graphic design is again remarkable, as it was with Gone, Long Gone.

While Phantom Threshold hasn’t grabbed me the way Gone, Long Gone did, it is far more intriguing than most music making its way to me. The entire album is of interest, but the closing trio of “Lily’s Resistor,” “That’s How It Goes in the Relax Lounge,” and “Whirlwind” (a Dawson solo Weissenborn showcase) elevates the recording into rarified territory.

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