Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Over the years since Nashville based singer/songwriter Trent Dabbs’ 2004 debut, he has become something of an activist for talent emerging from his home base in Nashville.
While perhaps the expression from his press release as a “musical renaissance man” is a bit of an overstatement, there is no doubt that between organizing the popular “10 out of Tenn” artist’s collective, running his own Ready Set label, co-writing with such up and coming Nashville luminaries as Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves along with work as half of the retro leaning pop Sugar + the Hi-Lows, Dabbs stays busy.
Interestingly though, his own music isn’t particularly country influenced and this, his tenth solo release in 12 years, pushes even further outside the city’s roots based sound. The short (at eight songs and barely 32 minutes… is it an EP or album?) disc’s propulsive and instantly memorable lead single “Closing Time” is a sweeping, hummable slice of New Order/the Church/Lloyd Cole influenced music with Brit-pop leanings. The opening “Don’t Believe in Stars” sets the stage for thoughtful, grandly melodic, often haunting tunes, all but one co-written with producer and longtime Dabbs associate Daniel Tashian. Despite the music’s widescreen yet intimate scope, just two other musicians (drums and strings) are credited, displaying the creative synergy of the Dabbs/Tashian duo.
Only “Jennifer In Cursive” rocks out (the psychedelic electric guitar solo is particularly biting), but the rest sinks into a lovely, sweeping sentimental groove that ranges from older, ballad styled Bee Gees (“In My Own Way”) to the more folksy side of the Moody Blues in the (almost) title track “Optimists.” Dabbs doesn’t have an especially distinctive voice, but he uses the best whispery aspects of it to put across songs that float rather than sting, even with edgy lyrics such as on “The Pill” (“she’s a pill but no one wants to take her”). The strings and Dabbs’ low key approach to “Disappearing Weekend” makes it feel personal and intimate with its relatively stripped down approach.
While we could use a few more tracks like these to push this into full blown album territory, there are no weak entries here. You get the sense that Dabbs is talented enough to knock out another eight just as good, making him one of the more overlooked talented artists in a city filled with them.