Review: Singer/Songwriter Jarrod Dickenson Talks Big on ‘Big Talk’

Jarrod Dickenson
Big Talk
(Hooked Records)
3 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

The title of Nashville by way of New York City, and initially Texas, singer/songwriter Jarrod Dickenson’s third album encapsulates its lyrical slant. Between long-haul COVID, being dropped by his major label, and trying to reconcile the current divisive political situation, he has a lot to say.

The opening “Buckle Under Pressure” (as in I don’t buckle under pressure) lays out the seriousness of his approach concerning being dismissed by his former imprint and the legal mess that ensued. You can knock me down/Baby, I’ll come up swinging he sings with the confidence of a guy who refuses to give up despite unfortunate circumstances. Like Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” Dickenson uses rock chords and a full band cranking out a sturdy chorus to make his point.

He knows he’s not going to get rich in this business but that won’t dissuade him from his chosen profession as he admits in “Born to Wander” with  Maybe I was just born to wander/Maybe I was just born to swim upstream/Easy street never looked appealing/Me, I’d rather keep running down a dream. Those last words, perhaps referencing Petty’s song of the same name, make the connection stronger.

Dickenson cloaks these feelings in tight, melodic rockers, incorporating greater pop influences than in the past. Nothing breaks four minutes with each selection displaying not just catchy, crisp hooks but production (by him) that captures these songs with a sneaky sheen and rather slick polish. He is most convincing though when the music shifts towards a tougher gospel/swamp vibe as on the self-referential “Take a Long Hard Look.” There he eyes himself in the mirror, coming to grips with his reflection as his wife Claire adds potent, near churchy backing vocals.

The bluesy, thudding stomp of “Bamboozled” helps convey his frustration with the state of the union. When he intones That fool’s been shouting from the rooftops/Man, they’re just the ravings of a madman/With a plastic heart, it’s clear who he’s describing. There’s a peppy country/New Orleans lilt to “Home Again,” a co-write with Seth Walker, featuring Oliver Wood and his bandmate in the Wood Brothers Jano Rix. It partially obscures the frustration in lyrics that find the singer looking to go home again, perhaps physically and philosophically.

Each track is intricately constructed (he adds a five-piece horn section on one) but the band is never overly busy and the arrangements focus on Dickenson’s easy, often mellifluous voice. For all his uncertainties about life, Jarrod Dickenson sounds focused and centered on this comeback of sorts geared towards a slightly wider commercial audience.         

Photo by Tatsuro Nishimura / IVPR

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