Tonight marked the closing concert of the 14th Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival, after five days and over thirty concerts, and featured Jarrod Dickenson who could pretty accurately be described as a favourite son of the festival.
Originally from Waco, Texas but now based in Nashville, Dickenson takes the stage with his band for the evening and launches into the big gospel introduction to “Faint of Heart” with John McCullough laying on the Hammond organ and Dickenson playing the most gorgeous sunburst hollow-bodied Gibson guitar.
Dickenson is a tall and imposing figure – all hat, waistcoat and big beard. “Faint of Heart “is followed by a big sprawling ballad, “Rosalie”, which had hints of early Springsteen and Steve Earle. “In The Meantime” is an old-style waltz played with admirable restraint by the band.
As Dickenson swaps over to an acoustic guitar, we get introduced to his pick-up band for the evening. It’s hard to believe, based on what we’ve just heard, but these guys had only met that day and had very little rehearsal of the songs for tonight’s show.
John McCullough is excellent as always on piano and Hammond, the extremely talented Matt Weaver is on drums and Gareth Hughes provides rock steady upright and electric bass. Last, but definitely not least, is Mrs Clare Dickenson on backing vocals. It isn’t too far into the set before Mr Dickenson tells us about how he came to play at this festival in 2012 and met the now Mrs Dickenson when she was working at the festival as a volunteer.
A tender and touching story of the Great Depression, “No Work for a Working Man”, demonstrates Dickenson’s gentle but quite powerful voice. This is followed by a very upbeat number reminiscent of The Allman Brothers and then the slow, bar-room blues of “Take it From Me” which allows Clare the chance to let rip on backing vocals. Dickenson gives us a new song, the old-school country blues “Prefer to Lose” which he plays for the first time, noting that he’s doing this because it is after all, a songwriting festival.
After this, the band get to take a break and it’s just Jarrod, Clare and an old upright microphone for the next couple of numbers. The first is a cover of Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues” and the simple one-mike setup brings an intimacy to proceedings; it suits Jarrod’s vocals and acoustic guitar and the backing vocals from Clare are wonderful. The duet “Your Heart Belongs to Me” sounds like it came straight off a John Prine/Iris Dement set-list and my, can Clare sing.
The band return and pick up with a Tom Waits-influenced song called “Gold Rush” which compares the California Gold Rush with more modern corruption on Wall Street. The Tom Waits influence (of the Raindogs vintage) is also evident in “Little Black Dress”. I hear traces of Richmond Fontaine in the song “Nothing More” and some 1950’s west coast pop and do-wop influences in “Later Than You Think”. Dickenson dismisses the band for one solo number and it’s perhaps no surprise, given the references earlier in the set, that he choses to cover Tom Waits’ “Picture in a Frame” from the Mule Variations album. He does a good job with this and his version is striking in its clarity and simplicity.
After asking the crowd to give another big round of applause for this evening’s backing band (I make that four times in total, but they’re well worth it) Dickenson finishes on “Way Past Midnight”, full of boogie-woogie, swing and jive rhythms. This gets a big section of the crowd on their feet and clapping. Dickenson has a long-standing association with the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival and it shouldn’t be too long before we get the chance to see him again.
His 2017 album Ready The Horses is well worth seeking out and he was a very suitable and highly fitting choice to bring down the curtain on this years festival proceedings.