With a name like Deke Dickerson, only three vocational options exists: Air Force test pilot, high school girls’ basketball coach, or roots rocker. Given that the first two choices are decidedly dangerous, Dickerson appears to have made the right career choice. He is one of the growing stable of artists at Hightone, a label that is rapidly becoming synonymous with contemporary Americana music. While rockabilly revivalists are plentiful, there are few that push its idiosyncrasies full register like Dickerson.
Rhythm Rhyme and Truth is Dickerson’s third excursion into rockabilly, and it’s a collection notably darker than his previous offerings. All but two of the album’s 16 tracks were recorded in fake mono, filled with plenty of reverb and echo to achieve a vintage mid-’50s sound. A splendid picker, Dickerson is the current monarch in the small kingdom of double-necked guitars. Back-ups include an upright bass, a Danelectro “tic-tac” bass, and Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano chops courtesy of Carl Sonny Leyland.
Dickerson wrote nine of the tracks; the covers include the Johnny Cash-esque “Have Blues Will Travel,” “I’m Lonesome,” and a bopping rendition of Grandpa Jones’ “Hello Blues.” On the surface the music evokes nostalgia — saddle oxfords/bobbie socks/skirts flying above the waist numbers. Typical rock ‘n’ roll themes are present: seeking, finding, and losing love. Despite the rollicking, however, there’s a subtle sarcasm, a hidden smirk, a lurking violence beneath the sock-hop facade that would make this record an appropriately sardonic soundtrack for the ’50s driver’s ed shocker Death on the Highway. For example, on the honky-tonkin’ “Where to Aim,” Dickerson drawls like a young Conway Twitty to lyrics that could have been penned by Unknown Hinson:
“I hold the pistol to my head then point it at the door
It makes no sense ’cause I know she ain’t coming home no more
The daylight ends, the nighttime falls — the time I fear the most
The man that’s in the mirror looks like he’s seen a ghost
There’s no one I can turn to, the shadows call my name
I hold the pistol in my hand but don’t know where to aim…”
I tried listening to this album in the dark, and all I could visualize were grainy images of young white greasers in Birmingham during the long hot summer of 1965; leering, laughing, making threatening gestures at the camera. Well, perhaps that is this reviewer’s own unhealthy subconscious coming out. Dickerson is, after all, a former surf music buff relocated in sunny California. There are occasional light-hearted moments on this disc, like the satirical “(If I Go to Heaven) Give Me a Brunette” and the acoustic romp “C-A Boogie.” But a cursory listen will find Dickerson, perhaps unintentionally, exposing the creepier side of rockabilly latent but not so obvious in the ’50s.
Rhythm Rhyme and Truth is a captivating and disturbing exercise in one of the 20th century’s transitional musical forms. Cleverly conceived and brilliantly performed, it’s a juke-box jumper you and your sweetheart can cut a rug to — and hopefully not each other.