Texan singer-songwriter Deryl Dodd emerged in 1996 with his excellent One Ride In Vegas album on Columbia. He had a couple of top 40 hits, a cover of ‘That’s How I Got To Memphis’ and ‘A Bitter End’, before his career was derailed by serious illness. He never regained the lost momentum, and eventually lost his record deal after his third album for Columbia failed to produce any hit singles. He continued making music, and has released several albums on independent labels, of which the latest is Together Again, released by Smith Entertainment.
He has several advantages over other artists who have been cut loose by a major label: a strong, distinctive voice which marks out his material, and good songwriting ability which means he need not rely on seeking out more successful singers’ rejects from Music Row. He co-produced his 2004 album Stronger Proof (also recommended), but this is the first time he has tackled production duties on his own. He has done a capable job, I suspect on a tight budget, which is not obvious from the results. Deryl uses his road band throughout the sessions, bringing in outside musicians where required, and he plays acoustic guitar himself. The overall feel is modern Texas country, with the electric guitar quite strongly in evidence, but not overwhelming the material or Deryl’s compelling voice with its interesting inflections.
Deryl has written virtually all the songs, sometimes with other writers. They are pretty good on the whole, but there is no individual standout comparable to the finest moments on his previous albums. The best song is the title track, a sparkling cover of the Buck Owens classic where Deryl successfully combines a modern sound which is still respectful to the original. A very authentic Buck-influenced solo vocal, but lacking the characteristic harmony of the original, plays against a prominent electric guitar.
‘Lost Highway’ is not the Hank Williams classic, but one of Deryl’s compositions, and is another track mixing traditional and modern influences, with some effective fiddle and mandolin from Dale Morris Jr. Like its namesake, there is a religious subtext here, as the narrator talks metaphorically about a life destroyed by a woman’s betrayal:
“This road I’m on, it’s black with darkness
With no shelter from the rain
And there’s a cold wind always a-blowing
And my heart is filled with pain
My body trembles when I picture
A memory that still remains
Some day I’ll sleep not to awaken
And I’ll be free, Lord, of this lost highway”
Another of my favorites is the traditional sounding ‘Life Behind Bars’, written by Deryl with Brett Beavers, one of his former producers. It should be no surprise that it’s the honky tonk kind of bar in question, as this is the testimony of a bartender who has seen the “lost and lonely souls” come and go during his career. Deryl revives ‘Back To The Honky Tonks’, another co-write with Beavers from his 2002 release Pearl Snaps; it’s a decent song about getting some weekend r&r, but not interesting enough to warrant repeating it here.
I also liked the sad lost-love number, ‘All I Know’, where the protagonist finds it hard to get over his ex and the fact that she is happy with another:
“How do I make my heart learn to let you go
Tell me how do I forget you
When lovin’ you is all I know?”
In a happier vein, a song which might have been a hit single if it was recorded by a major label act is ‘You’re Not Looking For’, a beautifully persuasive love song addressed to a woman who has been hurt in the past:
“Well, I may not be your Prince Charming
But a man of my word, that’s for sure,
When I say that I’d love you forever
You can count on forever and more
‘Cause I know you’ve been searchin’ for so long
And I know your will to love is all but gone
If you’ll turn your heart [in] my direction
And walk through this wide open door
You will find all the love and affection
In a man that you’re not lookin’ for.”
Another potential hit comes with the sweetly sung ‘It Don’t Take Much’, written by Deryl with Joe Collins. A simple but honest message is set to a pretty melody:
“It don’t take much to give a little
A light in the darkness goes a long, long way
No, it don’t take much to make a difference
Never underestimate love, ’cause it don’t take much.”
Deryl teamed up with another former major-label artist, Kevin Denney, and Alex Dooley, to write a relaxed cowboy song, which he delivers warmly, reciting the various ‘Things You Don’t Know’ unless you’re a cowboy, culminating with the thought that:
“It’s a whole lot of time by yourself but you’re never alone
‘Cause there’s a whole lotta hats up in heaven that’s already rode home.”
More life lessons reflecting Deryl’s home state are expounded in the fun western swing ‘Death, Taxes And Texas’, those being the only three things he can never get away from for long, as he returns to the state he left “ten years, three dogs and two wives ago”. The lyric doesn’t seem to hang completely together, but the track is still fun. It was written with Shane Decker, another of Deryl’s former producers, and Arlos Smith. More semi-serious homespun wisdom (not to mention another jab at death and taxes) is imparted in the extremely entertaining Roger Miller-style narration, ‘Beer And The Belly’, set to a punchy acoustic backing of banjo, bass, guitar and percussion. First we learn that:
“There ain’t no dog that don’t get smelly
And you can’t have beer without the belly.”
But the proper attitude changes everything, as Deryl concludes:
“You can love a dog even though he’s smelly
And ice cold beer is worth the belly.”
The last few tracks veer off in an unexpected direction. First we have a live studio take of the hymn ‘I’ll Fly Away’, apparently recorded at 3 a.m. at the end of the recording session. This is delivered at quite a brisk pace by the band, with appealing cracks in Deryl’s voice adding to its sincerity. This leads into a 1959 recording of Deryl’s grandparents, Louis and Gladys Dodd, singing the gospel classic ‘John the Revelator’ as a call-and-response duet with a simple guitar backing. Deryl’s grandfather had a pretty good voice, and the sound quality is excellent for a home recording.
Finally, there is a ‘hidden’ track – not, I have to say one which is hidden very well, as it is flagged as such on the liner notes, if not on the back cover. Bizarrely, it is a Christmas song. ‘Home For Christmas’ is not a bad song, written by Deryl with Brett Beavers, with an intriguing contrast between the optimistic lyric and a vocal tinged with melancholy, but it feels all wrong on an album I’m listening to in August.
On the whole, this was an album I really enjoyed, and will be listening to regularly for some time.