"Heavyweight (Acoustic)" EP by Joe Dolman
I honestly can't say that I was too surprised by the release today of an acoustic companion EP to Joe Dolman's most recent ‘Heavyweight' nor by its qualities.
The way he writes, (and this collection catches him on career-to-date top form) his songs work equally as well in fuller arrangements & in simpler formats (which indeed are reflected in his modes of performance) and although there will not be an ounce of cynical calculation in issuing multiple readings of his pieces, he surely realises the nature of his own work & its capacity for alternative renderings: this is far from his first exercise in such releases.
It is very easy to say that stripping the songs back adds to their innate poignancy, but then sometimes the truth is a simple matter & you need to acknowledge it….
"Real World", "Strangers", "The Lucky One" and "Get It Wrong" are back present & correct again and since I've already told you about each track, there isn't too much I can add except to suggest that if you liked them to begin with, your pleasure & understanding can only be enhanced by hearing them denuded of all but Joe's voice & minima of arrangements. You might though want to have a box of tissues to hand.
"Get It Wrong" & the 'Heavyweight' EP by Joe Dolman
It's that moment for Joe Dolman which fortunately comes to some creative artists on a roll when you've last released a single as good as "The Lucky One" (certainly one of my favourites of his work so far) and the time comes to follow it up..
Today marks the release of that single in question & it's called "Get It Wrong", though to fully flesh out the picture, it is simultaneously also released on his new EP ‘Heavyweight' which collects together this new track, "The Lucky One", "Real World" and "Strangers" in both their fully arranged & acoustic versions: and how many eight track EPs can you think of?
Given that (assuming you've been reading my reviews & listening to Joe's previous records) you should know all the songs on the EP already apart from "Get It Wrong", I'll focus today on that one.
Probably wisely, Joe's response to the critical & popular success of "The Lucky One" is not to try & replicate it: the song was a deeply personal one with a clearly identified subject and hence quite rightly sits by itself in his repertoire. We are back then in more familiar Joe territory of the lovelorn & anxious protagonist, underconfident is his own abilities to please a lover yet confident enough to express his fears. As I've often said before, if you listen to all his songs, you don't half tend to feel sorry for him as the character he so often presents seems to deserve far better than he gets & who seems to oscillate between deep self reflection & frankly beating himself up.
I've come to the conclusion that like many excellent writers, there is a definite element of writing in character going on here: and why shouldn't he. I imagine that he must draw on his own experiences as well as those he observes & there is no reason at all why the songs he presents in the present tense should not in fact be based on feelings & thoughts he's experienced in the past & moved on from, having learnt in the process.
Above all I think you get the portrait of an artist aiming at perfection in his relationships with others: which is commendable & presumably appreciated by those concerned, and in the meantime the search for this can generate angsty songs like "Get It Wrong" which I imagine will create quite the emotional bond with an audience.
Actually this, though fitting into something of the pattern I've described above, is pretty much the epitome of these songs he's been writing in recent years. Quite stripped back compared with some of the others (it almost approaches a skiffle feeling at moments), although as with all his songs, the internal structure is beautifully crafted to produce the variety of dynamics which keep you engaged, overall it's a rather melancholic arrangement which suits the words like a proverbial glove.
Once you've had the chance to enjoy the music, please take a look at the cover artwork of the single again as it's rather special. Emilié Cotterill of Transluceo Photography had the idea of photographing Joe walking on London's Millennium Bridge at night while she shot him from Southwark Bridge, 300 metres downstream. She got hold of a special lens, but you have to raise your hat to her for the vision & the skills to pull off such a photo.
"Strangers" by Joe Dolman
Out today from Joe Dolman is his latest single which rejoices in the title of "Strangers", the follow up to the successful "Real World" which itself has been out for less than a month.
It's interesting that after quite a long period of quiet from Joe, he's brought out two tracks almost back to back: I'd guess that after a lengthy period of not being able to record, he may well have had a burst of sessions laying down several songs he'd written in the interim. He probably also has a certain keenness to share the proceeds of his creativity during the pandemic and understandably wish to respark his career momentum to the level of before COVID19 struck: all totally understandable reactions which go to explain the slightly unexpected swiftness of the single while people still appear to be gaining pleasure from (and giving airplay to) its predecessor.
I said "rejoice" and that's possibly not the best word to describe "Strangers", whose title alone slightly signals its theme. It's another in the growing line of Joe Dolman songs which I have previously used terms such as "melancholic" and "fragile" about, and once again the mood is regretful. He does this sort of thing really well and if, at this stage of his career it's felt that it's helpful to establish a performing persona and trademark style, then that makes a lot of sense. To be honest, I think he nailed it quite some time ago and if now he's consolidating ready for another jump forwards, then I wish him all the best.
Originally, I felt for him: he seemed to be singing of sadnesses in his life & loves. As the sequence proceeds though, and with no evidence that his songs do actually reflect his own current position nor state of mind, I personally have come to the conclusion that he is (for the most part at least) writing in character and presumably based on observations of others. Which are fine approaches for a songwriter and he clearly has honed his abilities in those particular directions. What I personally would like to hear from him though would be a complement to such narratives, maybe a celebration of successful relationships and joy in them?
As I have said before, beyond that personal perspective, I find it hard these days to critique an artist like Joe. "Strangers" is as beautifully crafted in terms of composition, performance and production as you'd expect. He has assembled a great team around him to help him realise his work: musicians, production team and visuals. In relation to the music specifically, this allows his voice to be supported but not overwhelmed by the arrangement (and it does need saying that although lyrically the song does possess those elements of melancholy and fragility, they are set in a more upbeat musical framework which certainly offers a good contrast with "Real World" sonically, but which if it had been handled with less finesse by those playing and producing it, might have distracted from Joe's central performance).
It's a very well wrought single (not that you needed me to tell you that I'm sure) and will without a doubt add another layer of lustre to his burgeoning reputation.
In terms of catching Joe live, as I mentioned last time, his December 17th gig at All Saints church in Leamington (rescheduled from last year), has tickets available via http://infinitymusicgroup.bigcartel.com/
Joe also has headline gigs lined up for The Grace in London on February 10th & the following evening at Night & Day in Manchester: check his page for ticketing details.
"Real World" by Joe Dolman
It's been above a year since I last got to review a Joe Dolman release (his collaboration with Millie Tilby "Let's Go Home") so it's good to be able to tell you about today's new single called "Real World" .
Delighted as I am to tell you this, in case you hadn't picked up on it from any other source, beyond the facts, I must admit I get a little concerned with the judgemental side of reviewing artists of Joe's calibre.Of course I am so pleased when the quality of music created by Coventry and Warwickshire artists becomes appreciated more widely and I rejoice when their careers take off at national level and beyond. Living as we are lucky to do at the moment with such a breadth & depth of original talent, we have quite a few others whom I think could easily follow in Joe's footsteps.Nevertheless, by that time in his & their careers, it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about some aspects of releases which are bread & butter to those of us writing about music. The issue of "quality" becomes pretty meaningless as they reach levels where all the work is clearly of such a high standard that it can be taken as read. Equally it's no longer possible to discuss potential or those earlier aspects of development which it is so exciting to chart, especially when we cover careers from really early days. You are kind of really just left with description of the song(s) in question & such context as you can glean. So I'll do my best.
So, it's a Joe Dolman single, so it's immaculately written, performed & produced: not that you needed telling of that. One of his piano led ballads, it is hard not to jump to the conclusion that it's melancholic & fragile tone is not in some way reflective of the past months (I know I tend to read COVID19 references & resonances into far too many songs) and an even bigger leap (as the lyrics really don't support such an interpretation directly) to wonder if Joe is contrasting the "Real World" with the fantastical experiences of recent lives: he certainly is aiming his words at someone he feels is living outside such a place.
Co-written by Joe & Angus Parkin, the single was produced by Joe with Jack Arnold and mixed by Matt Cotterill. I have said often enough in the past that despite his reputation for love song writing, you do have to feel sorry for Joe or at least the characters in whose mouths he places the words he writes. Frequently they beat themselves up over their own perceived failings and in this case, although this does not seemingly apply, we don't get the impression of a happy person: which always strikes me as odd as his live performances of the songs tend to be quite joyous affairs. Maybe that paradox & tension goes so way to explain his success. It's certainly an intriguing dynamic.
As noted, the words are appropriately supported by a plangent piano which serves to emphasise the overall fragility (and I've never heard as much of that quality in Joe's voice than I can on "Real World").
In the pursuit of fame & fortune, I think there are a few potential traps: admittedly ones you can understand people falling for, but ones which I think are best avoided, especially if you want to have a long career. One is to try to please all the people all the time, another maybe to be endlessly cheery and keep accentuating feelgood factors. Joe hasn't gone down this route: sure he is very popular & has a broad fanbase, but it's not through pandering to anyone's concept of what his audience might be. I think they respond to the inherent honesty in his songs, and if they are of the nature I've just described, then so be it. After all everyone understands and experiences such emotions. Thus "Real World" is not a song for all occasions: it is a very mood specific track and seeks to capture that feeling as accurately as possible without compromising. In that way it may be seen as brave, yet it also shows integrity and as I've said, that's what's brought him this far & I think it will keep him going a lot longer than if he tried to construct synthetic pieces which he didn't personally feel.
I normally end reviews by expressing hope that the record in question will reach as many people as possible & touch as many hearts: I honestly doubt that in this case it will be any sort of issue.
If you'd like to see Joe live, then his December 17th gig at All Saints church in Leamington (rescheduled from last year), still has a few tickets available I believe via http://infinitymusicgroup.bigcartel.com/
"Let's Go Home" by Joe Dolman & Millie Tilby
This is rather an unusual release to be reporting on. Firstly because the publicity seems surprisingly low key considering the magnitude of one of the artists at least & secondly because the idea of Joe Dolman duetting with another singer on a single is a most intriguing one.
In this instance, Joe's collaborator on "Let's Go Home" is Millie Tilby. As I don't know too much in the way of background, I'll have to build this review around the track entirely on its own merits (which I'm sure is no bad thing for any objective review).
The single cover appears to show a Parisian street & that may be our first clue as the song turns out to be a very warm jazz style song which sits very snugly in the chanson tradition of that city: if so many of Joe's own solo songs can be categorised as clearly within a contemporary form of balladry, this one is almost certainly the most overtly retro feel of a track I can recall him performing on: and that is a positive statement as it offers such contrasts to his other work, shows his breadth & frankly I liked the track a great deal from the first listening.
Both Millie & Joe demonstrate both love for & understanding of this genre (this is a song which might have been recorded any time in the last ninety years, even if its production values don't fool us into mistaking it for a 1930's record) and the lyrics reflect that timeless appeal of the tune & arrangement.
The vocal arrangement is a canny one too: each singer has a solo verse & then we get all sorts of subtle blending, harmonising, answering and other associated interplay. At times the voices which work so well together in terms of tone, pitch & phrasing are tricky to distinguish. Well done to whoever had the idea of pairing them.
Credited to Original Studios, a collective of songwriters, producers and performers run by Alex Hart, the song was written by Alex and remixed & rearranged multiple times in recent weeks by artists collaborating with the studio. It will it be interesting to see whether this is a one off for Joe or the start of a longer term collaboration. I hope it is
The spot on piano playing which is another glory of the track is courtesy of David Plumb, as is the mix.
As I say, this has rather crept out into the public light but that in no way reflects the very substantial artistic & emotional merit of this single. Now go and listen yourselves please.
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Joe Dolman - All Saints Church, Leamington Spa
A Fat Penguin Management promotion .
Joe Dolman July 2014