|Jarrod Dickenson – ‘Ready The Horses’ (Proper Records)|
|Written by Jonathan Kardasz|
|Wednesday, 15 March 2017 04:00|
Jarrod Dickenson released his last album, ‘The Lonesome Traveler’, and a subsequent EP, ‘Songs From Willow St’, and then toured them like there was no tomorrow. He did festivals (Glastonbury and Larmer Tree), support slots (Bonnie Raitt, Don McLean, The Stylistics, The White Buffalo and The Waterboys) along with plenty of solo gigs and joint headliners.
His recently released third LP, ‘Ready the Horses’, is a splendid collection of music we can conveniently label Americana but actually tips its hat to soul, country and the blues (with a tinge of jazz too). Despite his move to Brooklyn, there’s not much of the city so good they named it twice, but rather it’s redolent of the South: no surprise, as Dickenson hails from Waco, Texas. Yep, that Waco – famous for two things: Dr Pepper© and that infamous bloodbath. Surprisingly for an album so steeped in musical tropes from south of the Mason/Dixon line, it was recorded here in the UK. Recorded on to old fashioned 2’ tape, which gives it a gorgeous warm feel, like some forgotten buried audio treasure unearthed by a crate digger in Alabama.
Album opener ‘Faint of Heart’ sets the tone, a quiet opening vocal underpinned by stately organ that jumps up a gear and turns into a sprightly number. Shuffling along at a jaunty tempo with delightful guitar and organ interplay, the lyrics suggesting that life is, well, not for the faint of heart, a resigned yet slightly tongue-in-cheek cut. There’s a lot of soul throughout the album: ‘Take It from Me’ is pure soul (pure southern soul that is) gloriously reminiscent of Muscle Shoals, Atlantic, Stax and delivered with a superbly restrained vocal performance. ‘Nothing More’ is a classic slow paced soul ballad, organ to the fore and with delightful backing vox, a sad tale of heartbreak whereas ‘Way Past Midnight’ is a cheeky little number; a skittering beat and fulsome organ resulting in an infectious foot tapper enlivened by gospel backing vocals; horns cut in and out leaving space for a beautifully judged piano solo. ‘In the Meantime’ is the other soul ballad, a stately number, once again evoking the spirits of those great Southern soul acts and studios (and remember, this was recorded in Blighty rather than Dixie).
This isn’t an album solely in thrall to that soul sound though, ‘Your Heart Belongs to Me’ has beautiful country picking and mournful pedal steel with a simply lovely co-vocal from Claire Dickenson (aka the missus), a tune of beautiful fragility. ‘California’ has folk picking complemented by a lonesome pedal steel giving it an engagingly traditional country vibe. There’s a nice mid-song crescendo and once again fetching backing vocals cut across the tune with a beautiful guitar solo over the organ.
Whilst the standard across the album is high, two songs really stand out. Rather than a tale about the famous gold rushes on the nineteenth century ‘Gold Rush’ is more a stinging critique of twenty first century greed in the financial market place (something Dickenson has confirmed when introducing the song live). It has a subtly menacing feel, the dynamics of the song encapsulating the disdain in the narrative and clatters to a halt with discordant percussion. ‘A Cowboy & the Moon’ is the closest to his Texas roots, a simple but completely effective evocation of a long life lived in a lifestyle long since passed, not only evoking the Lone Star State but also the (oft acrimonious) links the State shares with Mexico via some melancholy accordion. The final song ‘I Won’t Quit’ is a low key end to the LP, kinda confessional and a mature end to the record, again emphasising the less-is-more approach to the album.
It’s early days to be picking contenders for album of the year (and whilst we all know music isn’t a competition, it’s always fun to rank recordings if only to provoke debate and encourage others to try out something new) but this album will certainly take some beating. Dickenson has a golden velvety voice and whilst his vocals are understated throughout that’s only because they are in service to the song rather than indulging in egotistical show boating. Furthermore he’s a gifted song writer, not only are the tunes memorable but he’s such a good lyricist that this album feels like ten short stories set to music; vignettes of a contemporary America somewhat apart from the glitz and glamour of Celebrity USA and equally distant from the denizens of Judge Judy and Storage War$. If you need something warm, reassuring and life affirming then buy this now – you’ll not be disappointed.
‘Ready the Horses’ is out now.
Jarrod Dickenson kicks off his latest UK and Ireland tour in Dublin tonight (Wednesday 15 March):
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