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Music Review: Trent Dabbs – Your Side Now

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Five. That's how many times I started this review. Each one of them was an exercise in verbose gymnastics, taking great pains to impress ye lot with a clever turn of phrase here or an obscure reference there, that only a true navel-gazing music snob would have been able to write (or understand). The more convoluted my efforts became, the more I realized I was – ironically – getting away from the spirit of what I was listening to. It was a lot of unnecessary effort for an album review, when all I really wanted to say was "Now that there's a nice record!" and make you believe it. Too simple?

But simple is part of what I really like about Trent Dabbs' latest release, Your Side Now. Not simple as in undeveloped, but rather in efficiency. Simple efficiency that presents good songs, straight to the point, effortlessly sincere; where the thought of something that wasn't a great song would just be a bizarre notion, serving no other purpose than to waste everyone's time. Concentrated. Efficient. Simple beauty.

For those who might not already be familiar with Dabbs, he's an accomplished singer-songwriter, and Your Side Now is his fourth release. All have found quick acceptance in indie circles, and comparisons of his music to Greg Laswell wouldn't be out of order. He's the kind of guy who might find his songs featured on Grey's Anatomy, One Tree Hill or The Hills (and has), but probably hasn't seen any other episodes. That's ok, because he's also kept pretty busy founding and leading up the 10 Out Of Tenn music collective, which highlights the ever-burgeoning and ever-evolving indie music scene in Tennessee (and more specifically, Nashville).

In fact, the eight songs that make up Your Side Now seem partly birthed out of the communal aspects of 10 Out Of Tenn. Many of the tracks are collaborations with current or past members, such as Katie Herzig, Matthew Perryman Jones and Ashley Monroe. Being on the road in close proximity of other creative input perhaps birthed a unique album opportunity, and the added contributions bring a breadth of styles to the short set.

"Wake Up Call" fittingly starts things off, and includes perhaps his most radio-ready song to date. It's a relentlessly catchy starter, and shows that the arrangements on this offering are going to greatly augment the traditional "guy with a guitar" approach. Light organ and a string section round out a more standard band setup to deliver a rather poppy gem. "Dear Jane" dials the tempo back a bit for a very lush mid-tempo track that begs to be listened to on a long, lazy drive in the country.

Every song seems to battle the others for catchiest one on the album, and title track "Your Side Now" is no exception. Taking a stylistic cue from its predecessor, it continues a relaxed but enjoyable pace. "Rain Or Shine" doesn't necessarily raise the tempo much, but it does shift gears over to a more Americana roots feel, striking a balance somewhere between Roy Orbison and fellow 10 Out Of Tenn member Griffin House.

The piano-driven "Inside These Lines" is an effortlessly rich ballad, sounding both immediately familiar and unique. In a similar way, "Nothing Left To Leave" casts a magical spell, and might be the strongest track of this already strong set of songs. It might also be the most beautiful sad song you'll hear this year. "There's nothing here to see / No more you and me / No sad apologies, when there's nothing left to leave."

Every time I listen to this album, I find myself stopping whatever I'm doing to simply admire a great song. Not to gush too much, but I just wish that happened more often. And at a brief eight songs and thirty-two minutes, I wish this album happened a little more often as well. But here, less is more. There's no filler, and there is nothing extraneous. Just exquisitely simple songs with a piercing beauty. I love that kind of efficiency.

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About David R Perry