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Tunes from the Rivers
Review of Craig Dawson's CD

By Bill Quinn
Posted Sunday, May 4, 2008

Craig Dawson is an accomplished Canberra-based guitarist and vocalist, and half of the established duo of Craig and Simone.

‘Tunes from the Rivers’ is a solo project for Craig, featuring 12 elegant instrumental pieces of easy-listening finger-picking, with all but one of the dozen inspired in some way by rivers.

Craig started playing guitar by the banks of the Namoi River near Gunnedah aged 15, and that inspiration remains, endures and continues, with tunes on the album being sourced from the Murrumbidgee, Nariel Creek, Warrel Creek, and the Shoalhaven Rivers.

A sound that’s as close as to what you’d get if you were listening to him playing in your lounge room.

(The one exception to the rivers theme is the beautiful and delicate ‘Elegy for Grant McLennan’, Craig’s tribute to the former front man for the ‘Go Betweens’, written after McLennan’s death in 2006.)

While this may be Craig’s solo project, Simone still chimes in on flute and recorder, and the wind instruments certainly add a deft edge to ‘Elegy for Grant McLennan’, ‘Some Sunday Mornings’ and others that would have been slightly the poorer without the wind accompaniment.

Craig Dawson launches 'Tunes from the Rivers' at the Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival, 2007

The tracks are simple, finely-crafted tunes, though to say ‘simple’ is not to denigrate them in any way. While the work of some guitar virtuosos may demand some hard work and attention for their intricacy and complexity, Dawson deliberately set out to produce a basic, stripped-down sound with no effects, no compression and no frills: a sound that’s as close as to what you’d get if you were listening to him playing in your lounge room.

The style used on all tracks is Hawaiian slack key, where the strings are literally slackened. (The Hawaiian phrase ki ho’alu means ‘loosen the [tuning] key’). The album explores many different tunings, and Craig has helpfully included the tunings for each of the 12 tracks in the liner notes.

‘Tunes from the Rivers’ is a non-vocal diversion, sticking to a bare bones guitar and some wind instrumentation.

The stand-out track for this listener is the opening tune, ‘Nariel Creek’, the perfect scene-setter for the album. Simone said at a live gig that she just has to close her eyes and she can picture Nariel Creek. You will too – regardless of whether you’ve been there or not.

While previous albums have showcased Craig’s vocals and harmonica, and Simone’s mandolin, bouzouki, bodhran and other percussion, ‘Tunes from the Rivers’ is a non-vocal diversion, sticking to a bare bones guitar and some wind instrumentation.

A highly recommended listen.

 
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