Two weeks prior brought a look at the new work of Portland, Oregon's The Decemberists, and we now consider another Rose City outfit in Dolorean's The Unfazed. And much like their counterparts' most recent effort aimed to channel the I.R.S.-era sound of R.E,M., Dolorian similarly tries to replicate the vibe of mid-career Jackson Browne on their fourth full-length offering, released on New Year's Day on Partisan Records.
Frontman and songwriter Al James is to Dolorean as the cagey Dan Bejar is to Destroyer (who likewise delivered a new release today, Kaput): the singular creative force behind the project, and although a talented set of contributors shuffle through to enliven the sound, the output is still largely funneled through their musical vision. In this case, James' lays out a easy-going and earnest motif, largely matching Browne standards like "Sky Blue and Black" or "For a Dancer," albeit with a bit less piano and blue-eyed soul overall. The opener, 'Thinskinned" is very much in that tradition. Lines like "I've got my brother's car for the weekend; full tank of gas / Let's drive north 'till we hit the river, then let's head west" could have easily appeared on a late 70's-era Browne composition, with gentle piano from Jay Clarke and James' layered guitars brokering the path for a highway narrative.
Meanwhile, its follow-up, "Country Clutter," is a coolly-delivered good riddance ballad much in keeping with Browne's "Fountain of Sorrow." The wounds are still fresh here, as evidenced in passages such as "if you find anything I left behind, you can have it" or "a love, misguided it's true, cause it was guided at you; I had no idea what you were capable of." The rhythm section of bassist James Adair and drummer Ben Nugent is solid in keeping the number moving without driving it too hard. Likewise, the title track is even more subdued, as James keeps the choruses simple, rhyming "burgundy blues," "nothing to loose" and "fill up the juke" on successive refrains.
The collection's hardest number, "Hard Working Dogs" presents a more blues focus, which Clarke underscores with some background Hammond organ. With its tone befitting of its hardscrabble title, we hear about "careless spending," "true love's brutal timing" and "a new life calling." From there, the remainder of the 10 tracks settle in to the even more reserved terrain, although the late-appearing "These Slopes Give Me Hope" starts of slow before building to The Band-style roots-rock jam. A traditional Thoreauean ode to the open air, James preaches of being "baptized in mountain lakes" and "towering trees spreading grace like falling leaves." The quintet – which also includes guitarist Jon Neufeld – produces its fullest sound at the end of the tune, which is well-balanced and a nice compliment to the more restful balance of the record.
Come for: "Thinskinned"
Stay for: "Country Clutter"
You'll be surprised by: "These Slopes Give Me Hope"