Thomas Dollbaum
Photo: Cora Nimtz / Courtesy of Big Legal Mess

Thomas Dollbaum Launches Impressive Debut with Folky, Textured ‘Wellswood’

New Orleans singer-songwriter Thomas Dollbaum fuses vivid lyric imagery with eclectic musical choices on his impressive debut album, Wellswood.

Wellswood
Thomas Dollbaum
Big Legal Mess
20 May 2022

Although he was raised in Tampa, Florida, Thomas Dollbaum eventually moved to Louisiana to study poetry at the University of New Orleans. He certainly took to this area of study. While referring to song lyrics as poetry often comes across as pretentious or exaggerated, Dollbaum’s words are gorgeous and filled with stunning imagery. That comes across almost immediately on his terrific debut album, Wellswood, specifically on the opening song, “Florida”.

“Nothing good comes from Florida / Including you,” Dollbaum sings on the folky, atmospheric track. His view of the Sunshine State is all about its dark underbelly and not one bit about the tourism industry. “Go down the street, honey, sell that ass / It’s a quick way to make some cash,” he continues. “I know you’re trying to get sober today / But it might have to wait one more day.” Dollbaum’s voice, equal parts Justin Vernon and Damien Jurado, perfectly interprets these exquisite tales of hopelessness and lost dreams.

The untethered folk arrangement of “Florida” is interrupted by the slightly more country-flavored, power pop of “God’s Country”, emphasizing the broad reach of Dollbaum’s musical influences. The easy hooks and drawling Tom Petty-isms of the vocals are pure sonic delights, and once the listener is used to this vibe, “All Is Well” is a strange, hypnotic trip through late 1970s AM soft rock. “Some people need a woman to hold on to,” Dollbaum croons. “Some people need that night train wine / I need both dear because I’m selfish and unkind.”  

With its restless beat and slashing guitar chords, “Gold Teeth” abandons a lot of the country/folk stylings of the rest of the album while still acknowledging – and underscoring – the danger the album’s characters often find themselves in. “Gold teeth break on life / It’s gritty, but now don’t let them eat you up.” Still, with all the despair around him, Dollbaum always seems to find a little hope: “Someday, I will leave the city before it fucks me up.”

Wellswood is bookended by stark ambience – while “Florida” opens the album with devastating images of poverty and addiction, the closing track, “Break Your Bones”, is anchored by acoustic guitar and piano, with Kate Teague assisting on harmonies. “I ain’t got nowhere else to go / Blew all my money on a rainy day,” they sing. “Careen down the road, broken bones and Escalades.” It’s the sign of a truly gifted lyricist when it’s hard to pick favorite couplets; they’re all just too brilliant and eloquent.

Like most debuts, Wellswood is the sound of an artist bursting at the seams with musical ideas that finally have an outlet. Combining a vast array of musical avenues with smart, complex lyrics, Thomas Dollbaum’s phenomenal first album is hopefully one of many to come.

RATING 8 / 10
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