I first heard about Dolorean a few years ago, when we saw them open for Richard Buckner in Phoenix. I don’t remember much about their set (probably because I was too excited to see Buckner) other than frontman Al James slightly resembled comedian Darrell Hammond.
I’m happy to say I’ve got something better as a reference point, and that’s the band’s new album You Can’t Win, Dolorean’s third release on Yep Roc. My memory being what it is, which is to say not much (obviously), I wanted to write off Dolorean as another alt-country knockoff; You Can’t Win proves otherwise.
It’s a sprawling effort, mostly melancholy but uplifting at points, with very little twang to speak of. The centerpiece is the 6-plus-minute Beachcomber Blues, a somber piece with perfect touches in tone of organ and electric guitar.
In Dolorean’s bio on Yep Roc, James writes that he “was tired of feeling completely ungrounded day to day” as the recording of the album began, hence the title You Can’t Win. As he began to let go of his frustrations, his perception of the phrase changed: “And thankfully, it’s no longer just one hardened heart singing ‘You Can’t Win,’ there’s a chorus of us reassuringly combining our voices with the same words, but a different message, ‘It’s okay, quit trying so hard, You Can’t Win.’ ”
In that regard, You Can’t Win isn’t all doom and gloom. James isn’t crying in his beer like so many worn-down singers of his kind. He’s weary, yes, but hopeful, too, as the clearing sepia-toned fog over his face on the album cover might suggest.
Dolorean | Beachcomber Blues
Buy You Can’t Win from Yep Roc.
Stream the album here.