Craig Dawson – Tunes from the Rivers
Review by Bill Quinn
Craig Dawson is an accomplished Canberra-based guitarist and vocalist, and half of the established duo of Craig and Simone (The Recently-Married Couple Formerly Known As Craig Dawson and Simone Olding).
Tunes From the River 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 water.
Craig started playing guitar by the banks of the Namoi River near Gunnedah aged 15, and that inspiration remains, with tunes on the album being sourced from the Murrumbidgee, Nariel Creek, Warrel Creek, and the Shoalhaven River.
(The one exception to the water theme is the beautiful and delicate “Elegy for Grant McLennan”, Craig’s tribute to the former front man for the Go Betweens, after McLennan’s death last year.)
While this may be Craig’s project, Simone still chimes in on flute and recorder. (Actually, if she were chiming in that would put her in the percussion section, so let’s have her blowing in, so to speak.)
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.
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 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’).
It features finger-picking, and uses lots of different tunings.
Craig has helpfully included the tunings for each of the 12 tracks in the liner notes.
The stand-out track for this listener is the opening tune, “Nariel Creek”, the perfect scene-setter for the remaining eleven.
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 River is a very welcome instrumental diversion.
About the artist: Simone and Craig perform a blend of original songs and instrumentals which cover a range of folk music styles including Delta Blues, Ki Hoalu (Hawaiian slack key) with occasional Celtic and Country music influences. They are regulars to the folk music circuit. With a wide variety of instruments including finger style acoustic and slide guitars, mandolin, bouzouki and flute, they perform mostly poignant, hard-hitting original ballads and instrumentals dealing with a range of topics both serious and funny.