Tuesday, 28 March 2023

Gig Review: Jarrod Dickenson - St. Mary's Church, Shrewsbury. Monday 27 March 2023

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. 

Review of Big Talk

Friday, 24 March 2023

Album Review: Steve Dawson - Eyes Closed, Dreaming

Nashville-based Canadian Steve Dawson serves up a real heady mixture of American roots music in his latest record that caps an extremely busy period of committing his bubbling projects to commercial status. Hot on the heels of a brace of 2022 releases, Dawson steps onto a higher plateau with a new album spinning the plates of many ideas, influences and ports of call. Drawing on exceptional talent from within and probably more perceptively from a wide contact resource bank, we are served an eleven-track mix that possesses many coats without diluting standards. EYES CLOSED DREAMING is an album to ferment over time and become a valued reference point. 

Co-written originals mingle with choice covers wedged in between a couple of instrumentals to keep the album in perpetual motion. There is a level of intellectual grandeur when delving into the work of Steve Dawson. Not only do the songs and tunes measure up well, but you get the extra gift of learning more about where he draws his influence. From his perch of songwriter, musician, vocalist, producer and arranger, Dawson explores many facets of country, blues, folk and old time then spins them into a pivotal space of contemporary work.

All four original songs are co-written with Matt Patershuk, who has recorded several albums on Dawson's Black Hen Music label. The launching pad for this record. The first of these titled 'A Gift' unravels as an intriguing story song in the folk tradition with a sprinkling of twang in its midst. 'Hemingway' follows and a self explanatory title containing dialogue with a fiction icon likely to be the subject of further art for eternity. Dawson and Patershuk moved into the feathered kingdom with their next subject delivering 'The Owl' as one of the album's quieter moments, albeit a break into slide towards the end, with the lyrics being the focal point. The final selection from this pile is 'Polaroid'. Retro is both name and theme. 

The pair of instrumental are split between a Dawson composition and an interpretation of a traditional tune. The former, 'Waikki Stonewall Rag" mixes multiple strings, keys and percussion in a rhythmic stroll. The same quartet headed by Dawson proceed a little more lazily in 'Singing the Blues'. Both core sounds implying past roots influences. 

Before we turn to the four covers, a brief mention of the blues interpretation to the traditional number 'House Carpenter'. A track awash with fine picking and solid vocals adding to a credible version.

The album kicks off with a version of fellow Canadian Ian Tyson's 'Long Time to Get Old'. A good choice to win listeners over from the start with a breezy catchy song. Detected backing vocals didn't take long to trace back to Allison Russell, a long term co-worker with Dawson going back to the Birds of Chicago days. The largest accumulation of musicians appear on the Bobby Charles song 'Small Town  Talk' with brass featuring for the first time and most prominently. The Jack Clement-penned Johnny Cash-famed piece 'Guess Things Happen That Way' excels when the album is fully ingrained into the listening experience and keeps things rolling along. Dawson's Weissenborn lap slide guitar features throughout the album and is the sole accomplice with its owner's voice on John Hartford's 'Let Him Go On Mama' to close things.

There are so many facets to EYES CLOSED DREAMING that each play takes you down a different route. Steve Dawson has one of the keenest ears in the business and expertly transmits this into records that secure a legacy both of his sources and increasingly himself.