Life, pandemic or not, is a gamble, and some of the biggest gamblers around are musicians. Native Texan Jarrod Dickenson has wagered on himself more times than most. From quitting a full-time job to focus on music, to scheduling a West Coast string of dates with no guarantee of anyone showing up to listen, to pledging himself to a woman he met during a songwriters festival in Belfast – IRELAND! – Dickenson hasn’t been afraid to play the long game. On his newest release, Ready The Horses, he makes good on those self-wagers.
If nothing else, Dickenson believes in the power of hard work, and he makes it pay off on the first track, “Faint of Heart.” It starts low and slow, his words accompanied only by an organ, before the music fully kicks in and he works through his Everyman fears – “‘Cause the landlord is knocking/And the rent is due” – and just keeps on pushin’ – “You’ve got to be strong/’Cause it’s bound to go wrong.”
While the album begins with a low rumble, Dickenson likes to make some noise, too. “Take It From Me” has a big, soulful sound, complete with horns. Lyrically, the listener is dropped into the middle of a couple’s fight, complete with yelling and dishes being converted to projectiles. Counteracting that big sound, Dickenson feels a quieter approach might better serve that tussling pair – “You lost your voice/About an hour ago” – and asks if standing one’s ground is really worth it: “But if we can put down our pride/Honey, we can both move on.” “Way Past Midnight,” true to its title, portrays after-hours revelry in all its simple glory. It’s horns and handclaps, loud and just slightly lascivious – “‘Cause she fell asleep and I can’t find my keys” – and it’s Dickenson’s favorite song on the record.
Dickenson has a soft touch, too. “Your Heart Belongs to Me” is written to his wife (the woman from the songwriters festival, naturally). Turns out that Claire Dickenson is a gifted singer, too – she shares vocal duties with him on the song, which describes the early days of their long-distance relationship – “By the dawn/My heart will belong just to you.” Paced primarily by acoustic guitar and lap steel, the tune is simple and sweet. The affair in “Nothing More” is more temporary (and the mood, more melancholy). Here, Dickenson and co-writer Seth Walker portray a tryst fondly remembered – “I didn’t ask/And she didn’t tell” – and the music is highlighted with a guitar/organ duet. The album wraps with a classic “I done wrong” song with Dickenson, perhaps in the aftermath of that fight in “Take It From Me,” ponders his way to being a better partner. “I Won’t Quit” is pensive and promising. While he acknowledges his flubs – “I’ve gone and done it again” – he is, as he states at the top of the album, ready to put in the work “to get there in the end/To be the one you call a friend.” Looking at someone willing to work that hard, it would be unwise to bet against him.
Ready The Horses was produced by Jarrod Dickenson & Friends, recorded and mixed by Dave Lynch and mastered by Reuben Cohen. Songwriting credits go to Dickenson, Seth Walker and David Ford. Additional musicians include Joe Haddow (drums and percussion), Johnny Wells (upright bass), Chris Jacobie (electric and upright bass), JP Ruggieri (electric and slide guitar, lap steel), Mark Edwards (piano, organ and accordion), Leroy Horns (baritone and alto saxophone), Nick Webb (tenor saxophone), Rob Flynn (trumpet), Ben Sarface (fiddle), Lynch (piano), and Ford (percussion, harmonica and backing vocals).
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