Tuesday, January 25, 2011

REVIEW: Dolorean – The Unfazed

I promise not to write exclusively about Portland bands, but this recent release is so damn good, I can’t wait one more day to write about it. And I hear we have some readers overseas who follow this blog. Dolorean are headed to Europe in two days, so all you Euro-based When You Motor Away readers, please listen up (and check tour dates in link below).

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.

Dolorean Website


H Lewis said...

Dang Jim, that's a beautiful song. I'd never listened to them before, but it makes me want to skip lunch, go buy the CD and a bottle of something and mope around and drink all afternoon. I mean that in a good way.

Jim Desmond said...

Yes it does that to you. Glad you like it, great stuff.
I love that litany 2/3 of way through -
Unfazed by pain/unfazed by love/ unfazed by rain that won't let up/ unfazed by debts I'll never pay/ unfazed by blonde hair turning gray...
Great writing. Great sound. Makes me want to go down to the corner bar...

Rocksteady74 (Scott) said...

"Unfazed" was reviewed on page D-7 of the 1/27/2011 edition of the Wall Street Journal.