The most important part of this show was Jarrod Dickenson getting the opportunity to take songs from an elongated project out on the road for folks to enjoy in a unfiltered setting. These songs surfaced as a body of work earlier this year and a consensus soon emerged of this being an album moving the dial of this exiled Texan a lot further forward. There were many bumps in the road hindering the process of getting BIG TALK out including a major record label conflict. So a bump in the UK tour preparation was just another hurdle to cross. On the eve of setting out on this run of dates, the drummer was beset with multiple problems, hence a re-think on the rhythm front. Cue engaging the services of local multi musician David Ford and the utilisation of electric bass and kick drum. Innovative and practical in light of losing one of the key components of taking this new batch of songs on the road.
Joining the usual pairing of husband and wife team Jarrod and Claire Dickenson, the latter on vocals and supplementary percussion, was long time guitar accomplice JP Ruggieri alongside the aforementioned late addition. The quartet took the atmospheric settings of St. Mary's Church in their stride, and in the main set framed the majestic nature of the songs to give them a glossy coating of warm instrumentation. These songs are Jarrod Dickenson's core craft. The launching pad to unite with a wider musicianship pool and project meaningful music into the ears of expectant listeners.
Both Jarrod Dickenson and JP Ruggieri were no strangers to playing Shrewsbury; often with the same promotion if not this extravagant venue. Ruggieri grasped the invitation to open proceedings and dealt songs split between older and 'straight off the press' album releases. It warmed up the chilly surroundings before things heated considerably once the full contingent was on stage.
The main set was split into three formats. The quartet, the marital duo and the solo. The latter was the evening's most emotive moment as 'Goodnight' serenaded a willing audience in a fitting tribute to Dickenson's grandparents. Both sadly now passed, but not before respectively reaching, and almost reaching, the landmark century. That was the cue for the band to return to roll out a slightly revamped version of 'The Ballad of John and Yoko' that came over well before sending everyone home into a cold Shropshire night with an excellent track from the new album 'Long Hard Look'.
The new songs were the cornerstone of the set. 'Home Again' got things underway at 9pm, with the eagerly awaited 'Born to Wander' and 'Buckle Under Pressure' featuring in the early stages. The first is among the best tracks heard in 2023, but seemed to miss something without the full drum backing. The second we learned was written in response to the acrimonious parting between artist and record label. A fiery anthem of defiance, and ultimately the freedom to proceed.
Notable other picks from the new material were 'Bamboozled' with its ire turned on Donald Trump and the solid rocker 'Without Any Luck'. Older songs that resonated were 'California', 'Come What May' and 'Your Heart Belongs to Me'. All utilising the dual vocals of the upfront duo.
A respectful crowd circa a hundred-strong packed the available pews and made Monday the cool night to go out in Shrewsbury. It helped that a popular guy was in town, one not afraid of tossing around the wit, while unequivocally appreciative to those supporting his music. Jarrod Dickenson is at home almost as much in the UK as his native States. A Northern Irish wife likely helps. It has supported him through shows in many formats and opportunities, even when releases were patchy. The new album, the UK tour and an intent to fulfil the bigger sound aimed to reward the loyalty. St. Mary's Church in Shrewsbury was the scene of mutual gratitude, and a setting befitting of an astute and much loved songwriter operating in the spacious realm of modern Americana.