Trent Dabbs: Southerner

Videos by American Songwriter

Trent Dabbs
[rating: 3 stars]

On Southerner, Mississippi transplant Trent Dabbs shakes off his pop rock tendencies to sift through his own southern heritage. Dabbs, who pioneered the Nashville supergroup Ten Out of Tenn, has written with the likes of Andrew Belle, Natalie Grant and Matthew Perryman Jones, and has five LPs’ worth of material that came from a radio-friendly, soft pop sort of place. Here, he subtly taps into his roots, in a loosely conceptual album about his southern origins.

“Leave to See” addresses the perspective that comes with distance through warm strumming and a chorus that asks, “Did I just leave so you would come to me/did I make you up just so I could believe/a hopeless notion perfect for a dream/why do I have to leave to see?” It’s seemingly about a romantic relationship, but hints at one between Dabbs and the South. Appropriately, blues and gospel pepper the album, as found in “Don’t Blame Love,” defined by a dark, simplistic, Johnny Cash-like snap in the melody.

“Neil Young” is stolen goods, trading acoustic folk for a blast of electric southern twang that’s befittingly similar to “Rockin’ in the Free World.” It’s an audio collage of lines from Young’s
greatest hits with Dabbs’ own chorus of, “I want to be somebody’s Neil Young.” In “Follow Suit,” piercing keys contrast with dark strumming, as Dabbs sings, “The cloth I’m cut from/don’t take too kindly/to being held down in restraint/it’s under my skin/it’s so unnerving/it kicks around in this tiny cage” with an almost palpable defiance.

The album wraps with two songs wrought with a ready-to-jump restlessness conveyed through strange vocal effects, and “Paper Trails” ventures back into pop territory. It ends with the stunning piano-driven title track, in which Dabbs sings, “Oh girl I’m not done with you yet.” His final words are provocative: “One thing no man deserves is the love of a southerner.” Here’s hoping that Dabbs continues down this road of darker folk and intriguing songcraft.


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