Solo acoustic guitar is classic and captivating. There’s a balance to be struck by the guitarist, a wisdom that informs a picker that to make instrumental acoustic guitar as engaging as it can be, a less-is-more approach is often the best strategy. For audiences that aren’t entirely comprised of six-string aficionados, a tune written for the guitarist’s own enjoyment might swiftly sail over the heads of all but the most learned listeners. It follows, then, that the most masterful artisans of solo, unencumbered flat-top box reel in their audiences with the down-to-earth, simple beauty of the instrument.
Juno Award-winning musician and producer Steve Dawson demonstrates his familiarity with this balancing act on “Hale Road Revelation,” a tune that simultaneously conjures Chet Atkins and the Delta on his forthcoming album, Lucky Hand. Like most virtuosic instrumental music — especially of contemporary, vernacular-adjacent, folky varieties — “Hale Road Revelation” has a linear trajectory, not worrying itself with circling back to cover ground it’s already explored. This is no A part/B part tune, but rather, when Dawson does reference a melodic hook or theme that you’ve already heard go by, he teases listeners’ ears with slight deviations and derivations. His playfulness, and deft combination of finger picking with bottleneck, never toes or even attempts to cross the line into esotericism or self-absorption. “Hale Road Revelation” itself is its own driving force, another indicator that not only could Dawson balance interesting ideas and accessibility, but he’s also motivated chiefly by giving the tune the effort, energy, and care it deserves — without an inkling of heavy-handedness.