Dallas Wayne is probably best known these days as a satellite radio DJ, but over the past ten years he has produced a handful of excellent country albums of his own. The latest is I’ll Take The Fifth, released with little fanfare on March 3rd by Smith Entertainment, which seems to be basically a self-release with distribution. Dallas has a deep, booming bass-baritone voice which is very distinctive, and his approach is pretty solid honky-tonk country with an edge. He is also an excellent songwriter, who has composed all the songs on this release, more than half of them solo. They vary from good to great, although perhaps none is as unforgettable as the controversial title track of Dallas’ last album, ‘I’m Your Biggest Fan’. If I have a complaint concerning the material, it is that several of the tracks on I’ll Take The Fifth have appeared on previous albums.
One of these is probably the track most likely to attract outside attention, as Dallas reinvents the thoroughly enjoyable ‘Straighten Up And Lie Right’, previously recorded on 1998’s The Invisible Man, as a duet with Sunny Sweeney. The song works perfectly as a duet with Sunny cast as the sceptical wife (threatening to “loosen up those teeth you’ve been lying through”) and Dallas as the guy failing to offer an imaginative alibi if he can’t manage a convincing one, and the two singers’ voices contrast very effectively. ‘I’m Gonna Break Some Promises Tonight’, another excellent honky-tonker, has a slightly heavier production here than it did on 2001’s Here I Am In Dallas, with sax and horns. I like the pacy swinging feel of ‘If These Walls Could Cry’ from the same album (and it’s a well-constructed lyric), but redoing it feels a little pointless. ‘Invisible Man’ is probably the most dispensable re-cut here, as it drags melodically, but even this has some good lines (by leaving, “I’ve finally found a way to make you happy, funny, I’ve been tryin’ for years”).
The other misstep comes with the closing track, ‘Something Inside’, where Dallas overdoes the deep growl of his bottom register, taking it a key too low and sounding flat. It was probably a deliberate choice, to give a doom-laden feel to a rather depressing song, but I didn’t care for the effect.
A number of the songs (including the aforementioned ‘Straighten Up And Lie Right’) are co-written with alt-country artist Robbie Fulks, who produced one of Dallas’s earlier albums, and these are among the best songs on this record. My favorite was ‘I Never Did Like Planes’, which sees the protagonist literally flying away from a failed relationship in Tennessee, with some beautifully observed lyrics and a very singable tune. The chorus runs, “I never did like planes, but I’m not afraid to fly, I guess we’d all have wings if God loved goodbyes, I can’t believe that we’re all through, I never did like planes but I sure (still) love you.” This could easily be a hit single for a traditionally-minded artist. The pair’s ‘Crawlin’ Is Easy’ is another very good song as a husband sees the error of his ways (“when a man is wrong he knows he’s wrong”), with a solid hook (“when you ain’t got a leg to stand on”) and good tune. ‘Fixin’ To Fall’ is the least remarkable of the collaborations with Fulks, with some rather silly lyrics and forced rhymes (“I’m fixin’, to fall head first for a sweet little vixen” is not even the silliest line) but it has a nice groove and is fun.
The best of the solo compositions is the gloomy ‘In No Time At All’, addressed to a former country star who has crashed and burned. It is chock full of great lines (though it could never get played on radio due to the repeated chorus line “shit happens in no time at all”), with retro-sounding call-and-response backing vocals from Amber Digby and Gary Claxton: “It was great while it lasted, your 15 minutes of fame, but you’re still stuck in the past when they all knew your name … Now there’s a whole bunch of new kids in town and they’re all stealing your licks … You haven’t got a whole lot to show for this whole act you sold yesterday, just a bunch of T-shirts that don’t fit anymore, and a (roadie?) advance you can never repay.” This should be required cautionary listening for wannabe stars.
Also very good is the witty title track, as the protagonist appears in court to defend the events of the night before, due, of course to his woman leaving him: favorite lines include “I’ve got an alibi and it’s 90 proof, yeah, old Jack was with me all night long” and “I drove my car through the window of the bar because I was too drunk to walk”. The opening track, ‘All Dressed Up (With No Place To Go)’ is a relaxed loungy swinger with some lovely fiddle playing from Bobby Flores and piano from Joel Guzman. The mournful lost-love ballad ‘Not A Dry Eye In The House’ has a larger string section, and I think would have been better a little more stripped down.
There is another brilliant classic-in-the-making in the shape of ‘God Only Knows’, as the narrator reflects on the cheating wife he still loves, and “the lies that we’re both telling … the ones I tell myself, and the ones she’s telling me”. This was written by Dallas with former bandmate Ollie O’Shea and J Albers, and is another song with particularly fine fiddle backup and a very traditional feel.
Overall, this is great stuff, and my favorite album of 2009 so far.
You can buy the CD at Dallas’s website or Amazon, or download individual tracks at iTunes.