Zubot & Dawson Chicken Scratch

West coast purveyors of "strang" music, Jesse Zubot and Steve Dawson have become fixtures on the folk festival circuit through their modern take on acoustic music and blazing instrumentation. But the question with hotshot pickers is always, "Do they have any songs?" With this record, the pair do seem to be moving beyond simply impressing the other musicians in the crowd, as each track has a distinct mood, ranging from the obvious joyousness of "Hoedown" to the cool airiness of "Boomer's Hill Road" and leading perfectly into a version of Robert Johnson's "Hellhound On My Trail," featuring the talents of Kelly Joe Phelps. What is perhaps most impressive about Zubot & Dawson this time out is their diversity. They seem to effortlessly be able to tackle any style and make it interesting at the very least. This is obviously the way "folk" music has been able to stay vital - by opening itself up to every other musical form that exists in the world. But while many other artists' experiments result in a convoluted mess, Zubot & Dawson's grasp of their abilities actually allows a lot of soul to come across. It's still instrumental music played by a couple of educated Canadian guys, but it's safe to say it can stand alongside the best work of Bill Frisell or David Grisman. (Black Hen)