From: NY, United States
Genre: Folk, Singer/Songwriter
In The Lonesome Traveler, Jarrod Dickenson has crafted a truly panoramic collection of songs, penned and performed with uncommon spirit and invention. The Texas-born, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter expertly chronicles romance and struggle, solitude and adventure, in a resonant, rough-hewn voice that belies his relatively brief time on this earth. From the rambunctious “Ain’t Waiting Any Longer” to the elegiac “Rosalie,” Dickenson’s distinctive songs reverberate with earnest emotion and restless energy. Co-produced with Grammy Award-winner Ryan Freeland, and featuring a supporting cast of today’s finest session musicians, The Lonesome Traveler marks the arrival of a gifted and original singer/songwriter.
Dickenson came to his chosen profession later than most. He had devoted much of his high school years in Waco to sports, but a passion for the blues – spanning Howlin’ Wolf to Stevie Ray – drove him to the guitar. His father’s record collection opened his world to the classic rock and singer/songwriter canons, from the Beatles and the Stones to Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, the latter remaining one of his avowed heroes and greatest inspirations.
“Music just completely took over,” says Dickenson. “It was a pretty big shift.”
Despite his obvious unfamiliarity with the instrument, Dickenson was invited to play guitar and sing in his local church band, spurring him to put pen to paper and begin writing songs. Upon graduation, Dickenson headed off to the University of Texas: Austin, where he furthered his musical education by playing regularly in pubs and clubs, coffee shops and churches. He discovered the songbooks of legendary Texas troubadours like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, simultaneously diving headlong into the pages of American literature. Dickenson became a voracious reader, inhaling Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and above all, John Steinbeck, whose tales of working class struggle struck a powerful chord in the young tunesmith.
“Slowly but surely,” Dickenson says, “my writing got better.”
In 2008, while still in his senior year at UT, Dickenson recorded his first album, Ashes On The Ground. Perhaps more importantly, he continued to hone his craft the old-fashioned way, by hitting the highway, determined to introduce himself to as many audiences as humanly possible.
“I drove thousands of miles, and played in over half of the states in our country,” he says. “That was a very influential time for me. I learned that I love being on the road.”
Next stop Nashville, another mandatory sojourn on the road towards mastering his craft. Though Dickenson quickly understood that the processed, uber-professional Music City approach was not to his taste, he recorded a number of tracks, one of which, the lovely “Walking In Central Park,” was named as the Grand Prize winner at the annual Belfast Nashville Songwriters Competition. The triumphant Dickenson was able to cross the Atlantic for his first ever U.K. live performances, but upon his return, he opted to relocate once again, this time to Los Angeles, where he had two unambiguous goals: to play with a carefully considered wish list of today’s finest session musicians and to record with producer/engineer Ryan Freeland (Ray LaMontagne , Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Aimee Mann, Joe Henry, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Lisa Hannigan).
“It seemed like every other record that I liked had his name on it,” he says. “It became obvious that this was the guy I needed to make my record with, I just had to figure out how to do it.”
Emails were traded, and, upon hearing Dickenson’s tunes, the three-time Grammy Award winner proved eager to collaborate. In November 2011, they set to work at Freeland’s Stampede Origin Studio, accompanied by many of the very same musicians on whom Dickenson had set his sights, including lap and pedal steel guitar hero Greg Leisz (Ray LaMontagne, Dave Alvin, Bon Iver), bassist David Piltch (k.d. lang, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Hugh Laurie), keyboardist Jebin Bruni (Snow Patrol, Aimee Mann), cellist Richard Dodd (Foo Fighters, Kanye West), and drummer Sebastian Aymmans (Grant Lee Buffalo, Lisa Marie Presley).
“Working with all those guys, it was really special,” Dickenson says. “It just felt right. I’d leave the sessions and think, wow, this thing’s really coming together.”
Dickenson led the band through two weeks of sessions, encouraging a decisively naturalistic approach towards the recording. The musicians ably fill in the spaces in his songs, adding classic folk rock texture and filigree while never overburdening finely etched character studies and deeply intimate ballads like the album-closing “Seasons Change,” written as he saw his 91-year-old grandfather’s incredible strength begin to decline. Like any writer worth his salt, Dickenson is unafraid to let his imagination carry him towards greater truths. “Bravery (A Bottle of Gin)” reads like an untold tale of WWII while “The Northern Sea” – inspired by Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent – tells of a family of New England bay fishermen, “going out everyday, catching less and less, with the sea eventually winning out.”
In January 2012, Dickenson decided to get out of Los Angeles before it too won out. He lit out for New York City, not before another trip to Europe for a return performance at the 2012 Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival and a series of live London dates. No Depression hailed one London date, praising Dickenson’s “simply breathtaking” songs for possessing “melodies many of his peers would give their left arm for,” further noting that his “world weary voice and phrasing…will win him legions of admirers in the very near future.”
“I lost a ton of money,” he says. “I wouldn’t call it a successful tour, but it was definitely a blast. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Dickenson set up shop in Brooklyn Heights upon his return and is now settling in to life in New York. He has quickly become part of the city’s eternal folk scene, playing frequent solo gigs with new friends and fellow artists while also assembling a band of his own, “just to be able to achieve the sound of the record live.” Most importantly, he’s been hard at work, writing a new collection of songs that reflect the past year’s epic changes. Perhaps Jarrod Dickenson might put down roots and be the lonesome traveler no more.
“I don’t want to leave,” he avows, surely speaking of more than just his place of residence. “I see myself being here for a very long time.”