Every autumn while growing up your world tends to hit a reset button when you go back to school.

New teachers, new classrooms, new lockers and though the kids in school might be mostly the same as last year, they’re no longer where you’re used to seeing them. Some of them you seek out and try and make sure you still share a table in the cafeteria and meet on the basketball court for recess, while others quickly fade into memory.

Doles Dickens is like that kid who sat in your row last year in 5th grade – you’d talk to him, maybe even do something after school with him once in awhile, but you both knew it was situational… nothing more than random chance that brought you together.

Now, as you’re surrounded by different people in a different part of school, he’s off your radar entirely, maybe you’ll say hello the first few times you cross paths but before long you won’t even make eye contact and from now until the time you both graduate he’ll be just another anonymous face in the crowd.


The Last Gasps Of The Old Breed
This review mostly falls under the heading of Tying Up Loose Ends.

A non-essential older artist who only dabbled in rock as a way to resuscitate a career headed nowhere fast once the styles around him changed before he’d established himself to the public at large, Doles Dickens has for the most part failed stand out beyond the rather obvious song titles he chose to publicize his attempts at fitting in.

Though the music these records contained could easily be stricken from the ledger without any noticeable loss to rock’s creative narrative, the releases themselves are far more vital to that story than their middling content and commercial indifference would suggest.

Any style of music, whether an entirely new genre like rock ‘n’ roll was in the late 1940’s, or for that matter various subgenres of an existing style, always need artists like Dickens to give its increasing presence on the scene some legitimacy.

No, no, no… I don’t mean their music gives rock legitimacy… far from it. But rather the fact that someone like Dickens, a long-tenured bassist from jazz, would consciously attempt to latch onto an upstart brand of music like rock helps to tell the world that this is the future and if you don’t want to be left behind you need to at least acknowledge it.

Dickens of course did more than just acknowledge rock’s arrival, he steadfastly tried to associate his name with it through a series of singles that would have come across as desperate if not for their dogged artistic sincerity. Rock And RollGonna Rock This Morning… and Woogie all tried to suggest to the listener through their titles alone that these were legitimate songs in the idiom but while it allowed him to grab the bumper as rock pulled away from the curb, we all knew it was just a matter of time before he lost his tenuous grip as rock got up to cruising speed and he tumbled into the street and rolled into the proverbial gutter.

Blues In The Evening seems to be aware of this, which may be why his focus is now trying to hint that it’s another – even older – form of music he’s aligned with, even though musically speaking the approach he’s using here is broad enough to be welcome in any home.

But as is often the case, being welcomed inside another musical domain and being given a seat at the head of the table are two vastly different things.

Drifting Off To Sleep
With Dickens setting a slowly chugging rhythm on bass before the piano and guitar come in to add some color to the arrangement, a better title for this might have been Turning In For The Night.

Not only does the music not advance beyond its simplistic structure, but stylistically it’s so modest as to be standing still.

That’s not to say it isn’t reasonably effective… it’d make a pleasant lullaby for one thing… but Blues In The Evening is not going to be anything more than ambient music in the waiting room you have to sit in before you’re let into the raging party going on behind closed doors where a song this discreet would get shoved aside, knocked down and trampled in the rush to the dance floor or the front of the stage.

Yet in spite of its almost passive existence we can’t really criticize the playing itself, which is almost stately in a retiring sort of way. The metronomic bass line gives Dickens a surefire way to be the centerpiece of his own record for once while the others are hardly attempting to set the world on fire but aren’t detracting from the low key ambiance either.

The problem is there’s no market for this… certainly not in rock, but also not in any other style of music either. It’s perfectly acceptable when hearing it in the background but there’s nothing compelling enough about it to seek it out as a song to feature in any environment we’d be a part of.

Of course Dickens didn’t seem to have many options left after his more blatant attempts at fitting in here were rebuffed by the rock audience. Maybe that’s why on the flip side of this he tried to revive a standard which still was eight years away from becoming a rock classic in far more capable hands than his, but I Only Have Eyes For You also shows why pursuing that more demure road was no better for his chances going forward.

The song’s familiarity makes it tolerable enough to sit through for sure, but Dickens and company handle it like its radioactive, afraid to shake it up and see what they can do with it. There’s no attempt to redefine the song or tailor it for their own strengths, no desire to make themselves stand out and get noticed. So all we get is a record that has you yearning for the more indelible renditions still to come.

But that’s always going to be the case when it comes to trying to bridge the generational divide in music. You may have the technical skills to suffice, may even have a few good ideas when it comes to what content to pursue, but the further away you are from having that music define who you are, the more transparent your attempts to try and grab hold of the comet’s tail are and the less vital you become in the process.

It Getting Late
In the annals of music Doles Dickens – ironically – will be remembered mostly for his rock output, largely because of the titles rather than the performances.

His longer career in a style more suited to his tastes and abilities will be mostly forgotten while songs like Blues In The Evening which attempt without much success to straddle the line between genres won’t do anything to change his image as a minor figure of no real significance.

But in a weird sort of way it’s the failed excursions by veteran artists that signaled how potent rock ‘n’ roll had become. Pass it off as much as you wish for being low-brow, musically crude and puerile, but every generation needs to find its own voice and this was the music that spoke for the generation now moving into the forefront of popular culture.

Their culture might still be deemed second class – if that – by the statistical majority in the mainstream but as time passed it would be this music that would revolutionize the landscape, forever rendering the old guard, even the old guard with a sympathetic ear like Doles Dickens, obsolete.


(Visit the Artist page of Doles Dickens for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)