Nashville-based Jarrod Dickenson is increasingly popular here in the UK thanks to relentless touring, multiple festival appearances and that warm, soulful voice that makes his songs so distinctive. A number of the shows on this tour have been sold-out and the Norwich Arts Centre was certainly busy, with many audience members being returning fans, whooping noisily when Dickenson referenced previous shows here. As ever, the travelling Texan troubadour, with his trademark hat and gorgeous, honeyed vocals, delivered an engaging show.
Plenty were already in attendance for support act, JP Ruggieri, who was introduced by Dickenson as: “One of my favourite songwriters and one of my favourite people.” Dickenson and his wife Claire remained on stage to sing backing vocals for much of Ruggieri’s set and the harmonising trio proved to be an excellent combination. Ruggieri started with a moody guitar solo before ‘The Meaning’, showcasing his smooth, melodic vocals. Next up was the upbeat title track from his album, ‘Waiting on You’, which he said had taken: “…two weeks to record and two years to put out.” Ruggieri managed to achieve a surprisingly full sound with just his guitar throughout his half-hour set, with plenty of changes of pace and tone. Highlights included the gently tuneful and wonderfully titled ‘How Can a Man Live Without a Broken Heart?’ and two newer songs: the beautiful finger-picking ‘Weeds and Flowers’ and the groove of ‘Up by the River’, on which Ruggieri held long notes effortlessly. Let’s hope it doesn’t take fourteen years to put these tracks out as the good-humoured Ruggieri suggested it might.
Ruggieri then joined Jarrod Dickenson for the rest of the evening, playing guitar and pedal steel, adding real depth to the songs. Dickenson opened with the atmospheric ‘The Northern Sea’ from his first full-length LP, ‘The Lonesome Traveller’. Ruggieri’s haunting pedal steel introduced the song and set the mood before Dickenson’s studio-perfect voice delivered this beautifully constructed tale. With Ruggieri once again layering the music, this time with expressive, bluesy slide guitar, Dickenson launched into the powerful ‘Take it From Me’, which was lapped up by the appreciative crowd. Then he switched to a semi-acoustic guitar and introduced his recent single, ‘Uptown’, taken from the soon-to-be released EP, ‘Under a Texas Sky’. Dickenson described the project, in which he pays tribute to some of the great artists from the Lone Star State, as something that he had wanted to do for a while and he had clearly enjoyed selecting tunes from his heroes. It was a groovy, swinging version of Roy Orbison’s 1959 original, notable for how well the trio work together, Claire’s echoing backing vocals and Ruggieri’s guitar adding real depth.
The evening continued with Dickenson showcasing a good mix of tunes from the new EP and both his full-length releases, including old favourites ‘Rosalie’, with its beautiful finger-picking and warm, open vocal, and ‘Come What May’, on which Claire and Jarrod’s voices blend perfectly. From ‘Ready the Horses’ an inevitable highlight was ‘Your Heart Belongs to Me’, an unselfconscious love song, showcasing the fine vocals of both husband and wife as the lovers in the story share the verses and talk back and forth. It was such an intimate song and performance that the crowd was hushed. Indeed, the crowd was relatively quiet throughout the show, respectful and engrossed. Dickenson and Ruggieri have played at Norwich Arts Centre before and both commented on how much they like the venue, the high ceilings of the converted church helping to create a full sound.
Songs from ‘Under a Texas Sky’ stood up well against Dickenson’s own material and have been cleverly arranged so that they could pass for his own compositions. In particular, Guy Clark’s ‘Dublin Blues’ was a gorgeous version. Dickenson played and sang alone initially, before the pedal steel and backing vocals eased in, building the song from the first chorus. It’s a confessional triumph.
One of the things that made for a special show was the interaction of the three performers, who clearly love working together. From the humorous tales of their friendship to the inclusion of one of Ruggieri’s songs in the middle of the set, it was a pleasure to see their effortless bonding. This was reinforced when, halfway through, the three gathered round a retro-styled handmade condenser microphone and Dickenson declared that: “We wanted to make this an intimate affair.” Indeed, it effectively created the impression of three close friends connecting through an intimate sing-song. This worked especially well on the new version of ‘Seven Spanish Angels’, the well-known Ray Charles and Willie Nelson duet. Throughout the evening, Ruggieri’s accompaniment added a new dimension to Dickenson’s songs, particularly his expert pedal steel solo on ‘A Cowboy & the Moon’.
When Dickenson announced that there would be just one more song, he joked: “We’ll pretend like that’s it!” The show ended with ‘Goodnight’, a profound song about Dickenson’s grandparents; it follows their story from a youthful first date, through having their children, going grey and then their final act. His grandfather passed away, aged 97, a couple of months after the song was written. He would be immensely proud of this; it’s a timeless song, performed here with gentle finger-picking guitar and a storytelling vocal. For the inevitable encore, the trio were closely gathered around the condenser mic once more for a toe-tapping rendition of ‘Way Past Midnight’ with Dickenson’s fingers fluttering up and down the fretboard of his acoustic guitar.
The show was a warm, jovial affair that transported us away from a chilly February evening in Norwich. The successful tour wrapped up with a sold-out show in Brighton but fans can catch Dickenson again soon when he returns to the UK for two festivals: Red Rooster and the Cambridge Folk Festival. Highly recommended.
1. Northern Sea
2. Take It from Me
4. In the Meantime
5. Faint of Heart
6. Dublin Blues
7. Your Heart Belongs to Me
8. A Cowboy & The Moon
9. Later Than You Think
10. Nothing More
11. Gold Rush
12. Seven Spanish Angels
13. Come What May
14. Kicking & Screaming (JP Ruggieri)
16. Prefer to Lose
18. Way Past Midnight