He doesn’t do it all alone but he is the creative force behind his many projects, handling song-writing, lead vocals, rhythm guitar and sometimes much more. So when you go looking for John Sally Ride or Elvis Eno or his solo records you’re basically getting off at the John Dunbar stop. Fall 2021 saw the release of two different Dunbar projects practically simultaneously and they both deserve a closer look.
The third John Sally Ride LP title Now Is Not a Great Time surely must quality for the ‘understatement much’ award. The album’s opening number “The Nicest Things” captures the uncertainly of our times, where a rush of poppy rock can’t quite obscure the singer’s mixed feelings. This theme continues with “Putting It Off” but in a more dance-able XTC mode. Then “I Never Knew (Where I Stood With You)” builds off a solid Motown groove. So far the record the record departs from prior efforts, branching out stylistically. For instance, “Far From Eaten Out” sounds very Jam-like to me, with less snarl in the vocals. But there’s a lot here that sounds familiar too. I’ve commented previously on the Squeeze vibe in so much of the JSR material, both in songwriting and a strong Glenn Tilbrook feel to the vocal work. Tell me you don’t hear some Glenn or that Difford and Tilbrook songwriting magic on “Now Is Not a Great Time,” “My Persistence Vs Your Resistance,” “You Let Her Break Your Heart Again,” and “Is It Over Already?” Frankly I’d be delighted to hear material like this on some new Squeeze project. But the obvious winner for should-be hit single here is “She Doesn’t Do Nostalgia” with its hooky lead guitar lines, dynamic vocal phrasing and judicious dollop of jangle. Despite the socially timely title Now Is Not a Great Time brims with promise and good feeling. The John Sally Ride take us on another reliably melodious trip through 11 winning cuts.
On A Startling Realization of the Obvious Dunbar takes up a musical alter ego in Elvis Eno to rage against our current political era of lies and calculated disinformation. The political engagement is subtle and often muted, though apparent on tracks like “Your Startling Realization of the Obvious,” “The One Who Won” and “Believe the Liars.” Stylistically, the album bears the marks of late 1960s British pop psychedelia funneled through a 1980s poprock sensibility we might associate with XTC, particularly on tracks like “Getting to Know the Back of My Hand” and “Your End of the Bargain.” Working a different seam, there’s a definite Todd Rundgren elan to “Believe the Liars.” But hovering over everything is the spectre of Elvis Costello. “The Last Time I Saw You/See You” and “We’re Shaped by What Did Not Work” sounds very EC in experimental mode e.g. Brodsky Quartet. Meanwhile “More Than a Little While” has an Andy Partridge quirkiness in his Dukes of Stratosphere guise. Then “The Ballad of Russ Ballard” takes us back into Squeeze story-song territory. The album is a coherent, enjoyable exploration of another – yet still familiar – side to Dunbar’s musical personality.
Seems you can’t limit this guy to just one project. And given what appears here why would we? Don’t wait to ‘ring the bell’ – this is your stop, for John Dunbar.