Micky Dolenz – Dolenz Sings Nesmith -“It Looks Like We’ve Made It Once Again”

by | Jan 1, 2024 | 0 comments

Micky Dolenz - Dolenz Sings Nesmith

George Michael Dolenz, aka Micky Dolenz, member of the pop rock group, the Monkees, also known as the prefab four, waited almost a decade between recording solo records. In 2021 during the contemplative time provided to Dolenz by the pandemic he was inspired by a previously bantered idea to record an album of original music written by his longtime friend and bandmate Michael Nesmith.

Michael Nesmith was already an accomplished songwriter prior to his being tabbed for the Monkees television show. He had already recorded and released country tracks under the name Michael Blessing. Once he was picked as a member of the “fake” band the Monkees, most of his self-penned numbers would be pushed aside for the pop confections chosen by the Monkees producers and external songwriters.

Dolenz had mentioned his idea to cover some of his song’s to Nesmith back in 2012, but finally put the plan in motion with the eager assistance of Nesmith’s son Christian. Songs picked for the record span Nesmith’s career from his early solo days, to the Monkees’, and First National Band and solo cuts. Spinning in the rock room today is the resulting record from the idea and sessions. Dolenz’s reinterpretations started normally enough but unintentionally became a poignant reminder of he and Nesmith’s musical connection and friendship following Nesmith’s passing in December of 2021.

Subconsciously motivated by the 1970 record Nilsson Sings Newman, by Dolenz’s longtime friend and influential singer Harry Nilsson, Dolenz Sings Nesmith is a lovingly curated collection of reimagined and rebuilt Michael Nesmith songs from his long and prolific career. Even the LP cover pays homage to the original dusty road tripping duo of Newman and Nilsson on the jacket.

Due to the musical collaboration of Nesmith’s son and one of Nemith’s closest friends the reimagined songs contain both intimate homages and attentive artistic choices that honor the spirit of the original recordings. Nesmith’s classic compositions are given new life and glisten in the updated view.

Dolenz sounds exactly like the guy who sang on the Monkees 1967 classic “I’m a Believer” endlessly expressive and resonant. Only on the softer poignant Nesmith reflections do the gently aged edges of his vocal reveal any strain, and in doing so to amazing effect. The renditions are crafted respectfully and look to expand the pallet of Nesmith’s intent. The freedom of experimentation afforded to Christian Nesmith and Dolenz is still tethered to Nesmith’s words and melody. Dolenz’s pop sensibilities and approaches are sweeter than Nesmith’s straight black coffee originals. The album recalls the past and is tinged with the psychedelic Monkees aesthetic, while remaining fresh and contemporary.

The record opens with “Carlile Wheeling”, a song that the Monkees had attempted to record at various times in 1967 and 1968. Nesmith did eventually realize his musical alias on the 1970 album Loose Salute. Here, a strident mandolin driven stomp and hazy arrangement give the introspective lyrics new life as a joyous contemplation. The song dissolves into a psychedelic sponge of found sound and fragments

“Different Drum”, a Nesmith song that became a hit via Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys in 1967

brought Nesmith’s songwriting abilities to the forefront. Nesmith wrote the song pre-Monkees on the back porch of his apartment in 1964. Oddly enough the Monkees and their producers missed that the signal that song is tailor made for Dolenz’s pop sensibilities. A groovy harp and chiming Rickenbacker guitar support Dolenz’s cheek puckering vocals.

“Don’t Wait for Me” is gracefully unadorned, sparkling acoustic guitars and Dolenz’s honest portrait of Nesmith’s vignette of a relationship on the brink. The rare “Keep On” from Nesmith’s 1972 LP And the Hits Keep On Coming, gets a spatial construction, outlined by atmospheric keyboards and streaking slide guitar. Dolenz’s vocals come and go behind a veil of sound clouds that pass between the verses. It acts as the emotional centerpiece of the album.

The beautiful “Marie’s Theme” from 1974’s ambitious The Prison project is another Papa Nez deep cut. One of his most enduring melodies, the original version surpasses ten minutes. While Dolenz’s version is only half the time, he stays true to Nesmith’s original spacey and drifting vibe. The first side closes with “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care), taken from a gentle country lilt to a song that sounds like it was pulled from the grooves of the Beatles Revolver album with weaved electric guitars and delicious vocalizations on the chorus. A snappy power pop arrangement of layered guitars and a trilling banjo take the song to a new place.

Dolenz-Nesmith

Side two opens with Nesmith’s beloved “Nine Times Blue.” Dolenz version is a intimate piano and vocal performance with the focus on his nuanced vocal approach. Each word, each breath is measured and earnest. One of Nez’s finest melodies, Dolenz diffuses the song into a conversational and emotive tribute. A highlight of the record. The song concludes in a chorus of wordless vocals that segues neatly into a big wind up leading to “Little Red Rider,” the hardest rocking cut on the record. Originally featured on the First National Band’s Magnetic South record, Dolenz takes the song’s original groovy swing and injects it with a firecracker rhythm track with syncopated movements, growling guitar and hammond organ blasts.

“Tomorrow and Me,” the opening song from Nesmith’s 1972 LP, And the Hits Just Keep On Comin’ hails from the nadir of Nesmith’s career where he was struggling for direction and identity. Dolenz draws the melancholy from Nesmith’s words with a patient recitation. One of the Monkees’ most popular songs, “Circle Sky,” follows. The once power chord driven rocker becomes a paisley, nag champa scented whirlwind of table durms and sitars. Dolenz’s vocals emit from a behind the multicolored apron of a hookah bar. A bit over the top, but in this case too much is just enough.

Another Monkees’ hallucinatory classic follows with “Tapioca Tundra,” a song from 1968’s The Birds the Bess and the Monkees’. Dolenz and Christian Nesmith take a perfect slice of late 1960’s psychedelia and make it even more so. “Only Bound” from the First National Band’s Nevada Fighter is delivered like a faded photograph with smudged edges. A dreamy psych lullaby that feels like one piece with the concluding song from Nesmith’s Tantamount To Treason album. “You Are the One,” arrives from the mist, the last song on the record, a passing breeze, Papa Nez’s light and songs moving on into the either.

For those who want more there is also a four track EP from the sessions that spotlights the fantastic cut, “Soul Writers Birthday.” A Nesmith song that was originally recorded in June of 1966 but never made it to Monkees record. The only thing this reading is missing is the “Wrecking Crew!” A snappy and hip song retrieved from the jaws of time by Dolenz and Christian Nesmith. Also included on the EP is the country lilt of “Some of Shelly’s Blues,”a choogling “Grand Ennui,” and dramatic rearrangement of “The Crippled Lion.”

The thing about the Dolenz Sings Nesmith album and additional songs is that it serves multiple sonic purposes. It is a tribute, a reassessment, and a fine collection of material that fits Dolenz’s current musical place perfectly. Since the release of the album Dolenz has also offered a reimagining of the band REM’s deep catalog. He has found his gift as a master interpreter of his favorite songs. In the case of Michael Nesmith’s music, there couldn’t be a better marriage of song, voice and intent. The album is a thank you, Micky Dolenz singing his best friend’s songs back to him in honor and remembrance.

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