Jarrod Dickenson‘s career was going fine before the shit hit the fan. His second full-length record (not including his first, self-released one), Ready the Horses, received praise in various music publications such as American Songwriter, Q Magazine, Uncut, and PopMatters. Dickenson got to tour Europe as a headliner and opened shows in America for well-known artists such as Bonnie Raitt and Don McLean. The country soul musician signed a major label deal and seemed on an upward arc when bad stuff started to happen.
First, the major label deal went south, and worse than that, it took him more than a year and a half full of legal maneuvers to get the rights back to his music. Then he caught a bad case of COVID that left him with a persistent and long-lasting medical condition. One might think this would leave him depressed, but it only made him mad. His hardships have only made him angry and stronger.
Dickenson writes in the first person on his latest album, Big Talk, and directly confronts the troubles he has endured. “You can steal my songs / But you can’t keep me from singing,” he croons on “Buckle Under Pressure”. He’d “Prefer to Lose” than cheat because he can always be dealt another hand. But Dickenson is far from complacent.
He’s mad as hell, not just because of his personal situation but because of the larger political one. The Nashville via Waco, Texas singer-songwriter finds mendacity, greed, bigotry, and lies the new norm. He specifically notes his hatred of former President Donald Trump and his followers in the press notes. “There has never been a more polarizing, divisive, and dangerous president in our nation’s history. Hatred, xenophobia, racism, and sexism became acceptable and even applauded under the guise of ‘America First’.” This kind of talk will alienate his more conservative country fan base, whom he addresses directly on “Bamboozled”. Dickenson boldly states his case against Trump and his followers:
Well, you can hate another race in the name of our Lord
And you can treat an entire gender like they’re second-class whores
You could lie and steal and cheat your way to the top
If you follow my lead
But don’t you bother me with truth, or what’s decent or right
Man, those are silly ideals that only suckers hold tight
You say this ain’t what you wanted
Yeah, well I say it’s the New American Dream
Dickenson delivers his diatribe in a strong and clear voice. He protests over the sounds of two electric guitars (both Jarrod and JP Ruggieri), Jano Rix (The Wood Brothers) on keys, drums and percussion, Ted Pecchio (Doyle Bramhall II, Tedeschi Trucks Band) on bass, and three vocalists singing with powerful voices in the background. Dickenson’s anger against America’s direction has musical muscle behind it.
He sings in a friendlier voice on the softer songs, such as the primarily acoustic “If You’re Lookin'”, which Jarrod co-wrote with his wife, Claire Dickenson. Life may be hard. Other people can disappoint you. Nasty surprises may be next. But there are positives, too: “‘Cause, despite the confusion / And amid the despair / There’s beauty if you’re looking.” Dickenson understands the inherent existential issues. This is the only life we have.
We need to celebrate the good as well as criticize the bad. Dickenson is not just talking the talk on the album Big Talk. He’s pointing the way forward to a better world over a country rock soundtrack. His music suggests we can all boogie to wherever life takes us.