Full Circle is a fitting title for Deryl Dodd’s sixth album, which not only sees him return to his Texas roots but also reunites him with childhood friend and musical collaborator Brett Beavers, producer on this fine piece of rough-hewn honky-tonk. Like fellow Texas “outlaw” Willie Nelson before him, Dodd was determined to shake the Lone Star dust from his boots and head for Nashville, only to discover that the bare-bones honky-tonk style both men favour doesn’t quite fit in with the commercial scene engulfing the country music capital.
However, it wasn’t the lack of success as a solo performer, or his tumultuos relationship with Columbia Records that made him decide to circle the wagons and then head for home, but rather a debilitating brain disorder called viral encephalitis. Priorities were realigned when he was diagnosed in early 1999, and after a year and a half in rehabilitation — during which time he had to gradually regain the motor skills required to play guitar — Dodd decided to reaquaint himself with the Texas roadhouse circuit on which he’d cut his teeth. The big break of his comeback arrived when he was asked to record for the regionally-acclaimed Live at Billy Bob’s series in 2003. Since then life has got a whole lot sweeter for this hard-core honky-tonker, not that you can tell to judge by some of the lovelorn lyrics on these 11 tracks.
As soon as Dodd cuts loose on the foot-tappin’ opener “Wearin’ a Hole” — with the words “I’m wearin’ a hole in a honky tonk floor, / I like the feel of my heels slidin’ over the boards, / I like the music they play behind those swingin’ doors” — you know you’re in for some honest country pickin’ that’s not going to travel too far down the road from the pioneering country rock renegades he draws inspiration from. A testament to this fact is laid down on the Beavers composition “Into Outlaw” with Dodd hollerin’ for a response to his cry “Let me get a shout y’all, / If you’re into outlaw”. Meanwhile, the self-penned track “Songs of the Family” pays homage to the traditional country sound of banjo, fiddle and dobro with down-to-earth, home-spun lyrics. This song rounds off the proceedings and is most definitely the highlight of the album, evoking the legacy left behind by such legendary country artists as Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys.
However, there is more to discover on this solid country album than just Dodd’s sincere efforts to remain true to, and keep alive, an endangered honky-tonk tradition. “I’m Not Home Right Now”, the first single to be taken off the album, is a lesson in melancholia that uses beautiful quavering steel guitar to great effect in accompanying Dodd’s heartfelt vocals. Elsewhere the country-blues tune “Solid Ground” summons the spirit of Hank Williams, while “I Won’t Run” brings to mind a curious mixture of The Monkees and southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd, on the electric guitar intro. Oddly, the weakest song on the record — “It’s Only Cause You’re Lonely” — is a Jim Lauderdale and Clay Blaker cover recycled from Dodd’s self-titled 1998 album.
To paraphrase a song title from another country music renegade Gary Stewart, Dodd is a “flat natural-born good timin’ man”, who with Full Circle has produced his most accomplished LP to date.