”Historically, string-based instrumental albums have been a tough sell”, Steve Dawson’s record label maintains. I don’t think this necessarily holds true for the cello as exceptional artists like Julia Kent and Hildur Guðnadóttir have demonstrated. The case for the pedal steel guitar is another matter.
Much as I love this plaintive guitar sound on classic country records, its use as a lead instrument is another matter. I was willing to be proven wrong but ‘Phantom Threshold’ only confirms my scepticism. This is a record that might calm you while waiting for dental treatment but doesn’t really work on any other level.
Dawson, a native of Vancouver, Canada currently lives in Nashville and also works as a sideman and record producer. Presumably, this affords him the luxury of being able to make albums without worrying too much about attracting a large audience.
The tracks were apparently recorded remotely and perhaps the album would have been a different beast had it come from band members sparking ideas off each another in a studio. While the quality of musicianship can’t be faulted , the absence of any dynamic qualities mean that the overall effect is mainly soporific.
Aside from Dawson on pedal steel, it features The Telescope 3 who are Jeremy Holmes (bass), Chris Gestrin (keyboards), and Jay Bellerose (drums/percussion). Guest musicians include Daniel Lapp, who added violin and cornet to Cozy Corner and Tripledream and Fats Kaplin who played fiddle and banjo on the title track as well as accordion on The Waters Rise.
A woozy cover of the Beach Boys’ You Still Believe In Me features a tacky sounding pump organ and the track title That’s How It Goes In The Relax Lounge sums up the album’s mega laid back style very accurately.
There a brief redemption only in the closing track, a livelier solo piece called Whirlwind, played on a Weissenborn steel guitar with paper taped across the strings. This tune fizzes with an energy that serves to emphasise the lack of vitality elsewhere.
Steve Dawson’s website