Most artists slow down by the time they reach Social Security eligibility, but Jim Dickinson has headed the other way. For decades, Dickinson recorded his own music sporadically while focusing on other artists — either as a producer or heavyweight sideman. But now, Dickinson has released three solo albums in four years, all for the local label Memphis International.
These records are not uniform in sound or quality, but they are of a piece, reflecting Dickinson's song-collector bona fides and long, deep ties to a varied roots-music history few living musicians connect with as personally.
Recorded essentially as a jazz/blues trio album with Dickinson on piano and Sam Shoup and Tom Lonardo providing support on stand-up bass and low-key drums, Dinosaurs Run in Circles lacks the vibrantly communal musicality that animated Dickinson's career-best Memphis International debut, Jungle Jim & the Voodoo Tiger. And even when it tries, it can't quite match the growling swagger of the best parts of Killers From Space.
On the surface, the album comes off as almost too laid-back; you have to play it pretty loud to really hear it or risk it slipping into background music. What it does have is a loose, spirited tone, a charmingly flat sound, and a palpable intimacy as Dickinson, Shoup, and Lonardo work their way around a batch of vintage tunes. These songs — associated with artists such as Johnny Mercer, Ray Charles, and Louis Jordan — comprise pre-rock genres such as jump blues, shuffles, and crooner pop and are urbane even at their grittiest. Dinosaurs Run in Circles is durable, growing in appeal through multiple listens, and it enlarges the evidence of Dickinson's mastery.
Dickinson isn't as well known as Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson (who have enjoyed similar late-career artistic boons), but as an unfussy musical keeper of American pop- and folk-song traditions, this trio of Memphis International albums puts him in the same conversation. ("Easy Street," "The Gypsy," "Save the Bones for Henry Jones")