To start, Dolorean are a true band, a stable unit of five who’ve been playing together a long time. And on The Unfazed, their 5th full length recording, the confidence, competence and trust that comes from being such an experienced band shines through.
Second, Al James is a terrific writer. He could have just as easily been a novelist or short story writer had he not become a songwriter, or like fellow Portlandiar and like-minded artist, Willy Vlautin (Richmond Fontaine), James could do both if he so desired. James says so much in so few words, paints a picture in every song, makes you care about the characters he introduces in the songs.
Al James makes me feel. And sometimes, Al James doesn’t make me feel so good. The Unfazed is full of heartache, pain, broken relationships, drink, regret. But ultimately, it’s a story of survival. And beautiful music.
The instrumentation and arrangements are well done, with tasteful use of keyboards and violin. Jay Clarke's piano warms the sound throughout. And James’ vocals are gently delivered, direct, so beautiful, with gorgeous added harmonies from band members and some extra female voices. You are lifted up far more than brought down.
The title track:
The production and mixing is first rate. One great aspect of modern technology - you don't need a big budget to make a great sounding record anymore.
There's an ambition and skill level here that makes this rise far above the standard singer-songwriter record. Songs like "Black Hills Gold", “Country Clutter” and "If I Find Love" would not be out of place on a Joe Henry project or a Daniel Lanois-produced Emmylou Harris record.
The centerpiece for me is the lead track "Thinskinned". Beautiful piano opening, guitar strum, great first lines: "It only takes one burr under the saddle / And you and I babe, oh we do battle / Seems like we're just too [perfect pause] thinskinned" [repeat the word three times with ever so slightly different feel and cadence each time]. Then cue the violin. Haunting, under your skin, etched in your brain, pulling at you like a perfect Neil Young song - I just can't imagine how it could be better. Which is how I feel about all 10 songs here.