By Mike O’Cull
Uncompromising Americana singer-songwriter Jarrod Dickenson speaks his piece with an outlaw’s heart on his new record Big Talk.
Out on Hooked Records, Big Talk feels like a smooth, defiant roar from Dickenson, a songwriter and vocalist of uncommon gifts who survived a bad major label experience, Covid complications, and political disillusionment to make it. It’s his third studio album and his first time handling his own production chores.
Dickenson’s decision to take the best and most direct songs of his career and track them live to tape with a crew of high-octane musicians behind him turned Big Talk into a definitive release that crackles with electricity and authenticity. His studio band of luminaries included Jano Rix (The Wood Brothers) on drums and keys, Ted Pecchio (Doyle Bramhall II, Tedeschi Trucks Band) on bass, JP Ruggieri on guitars, and Claire Dickenson on backing vocals. Their talents helped Dickenson articulate his songs in a stronger way than ever before and give the album a true band sound.
Guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer Jarrod Dickenson comes from Texas, lives in Nashville, and makes music that has brought him international acclaim. His first two albums, The Lonesome Traveler and Ready The Horses, plus his EP Under A Texas Sky, have won him a loyal following and much critical love. He has toured extensively and shared stages with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Jools Holland, Jimmie Vaughan, Don McLean, and The Waterboys. He’s also appeared at major festivals including Glastonbury and the Cambridge Folk Festival. He’s been signed to a major label, didn’t like it, and now identifies as a fierce independent artist free to do things his way.
“Long Hard Look”
Big Talk gets going with the confident, confrontational anthem “Buckle Under Pressure.” Right from Jump Street, Dickenson exhibits the kind of guts and determination that outlaw legends Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson used to turn American music into personal statements back in the 1970s. Jarrod clearly has their flair for bending the conventions of country music into something new that contains fresh influences. Rock, blues, pop, and poetry are all part of Dickenson’s mix and the way he folds them all into the American songwriting tradition with nary a ripple is impressive. This is a great first song and very much sets the tone for all that follows.
“Born To Wander” is a jangle-filled, minor key tune written in response to the disposable attitude of streaming platforms toward the artists who make their profits possible. It’s an affecting, mid-tempo song done in a 12-string guitar and Hammond organ style that channels yearning and acceptance at once. The harmonized slide guitar break is ultra-sweet and feels like a polite homage to George Harrison. Dickenson’s vocals are silky smooth and let his lyrical ideas slip into your consciousness with ease, a fact that speaks to the dual nature of these new songs.
One of Dickenson’s most fearless moments on Big Talk is the lurching, junkyard blues ballad “Bamboozled.” The song is his direct response to the Trump presidency and Jarrod speaks freely and critically of the events of that era. Lines like “Don’t you bother me with truth, or what’s decent or right. Those are just silly ideals that only suckers hold tight” let the world know where Dickenson stands and he delivers them against an unconventional arrangement that’ll catch the ears of Tom Waits fans.
Other cool tunes on Big Talk include the mellow, James Taylor-ish “If You’re Looking” and the Beatle-esque “Don’t Deprive Me.” Through it all, Dickenson follows his creative impulses without interference from outside forces and brings us one of the most satisfying song-based albums of 2023. Listen once and you’ll fall in love.
Jarrod Dickenson website