Now, if you’re a longtime reader here, you would know that I love nothing more than a record that is hard to define and exists somewhere outside of the neat confines of genre labels. An album that is best summed up as an unquestionably true expression of the artist. Jerry David DeCicca’s The Unlikely Optimist and His Domestic Adventures is very much one of those records.
A total jack-of-all-trades, DeCicca works by day in social services in Bulverde, TX, and by night, he produces records for the likes of Ed Askew and Will Beeley and finely crafts his own deeply personal albums.
His songs are totally alive with finely detailed and realistic lyrics that feel pulled directly from the daily life of the average working man and his tight-knit world of friends, family and coworkers. To help him tell these stories, DeCicca enlisted a crack team of gifted musicians that include Frank ‘The Wild Jalapeño’ Rodarte (who worked with Doug Sahm) on sax, Augie Meyers (from the Sir Douglas Quintet) on organ and squeezebox and Ralph White (of Bad Livers) on violin and kalimaba, while his partner, Eve Searls, elegantly joins in on duet and backing vocals.
Together, they give each song a unique flavor that always hammers its complex cocktail of emotions home. Take the opening track, “I See Horizons,” for example. Throughout the tune, thunderous electric guitars grumble powerfully grungy riffs on top of a funeral march beat, while Rodarte adds a bluesy flare with his tenor sax. When combined with DeCicca’s trance-like vocals, the piece feels like a dirge that sprang from a dream state or wherever the mind goes during a particularly arduous and time-consuming period of work.
Elsewhere on the record, DeCicca lets his wryly relatable lyrics flourish while leaning further into a country sound, warmly invoking the likes of John Prine and Greg Brown. This is especially evident on “Quiet Life” and the aptly named “Country Cookie.” Occasionally, DeCicca’s songwriting becomes more lighthearted and even jovial, edging into Michael Hurley territory, like with the undeniably fun “Grape Jelly” and “Texas Toad.”
Yet the real crown jewel of DeCicca’s song craft is “West Texas Trilogy,” which is an eleven-minute collection of snapshots of the life found along the border of Big Bend. These empathetic portraits of the down and out, the landscape and ghost towns of the area again echo the work of Prine, but the backing of a spectral Jerry Garcia-like guitar gives the song a haunting and spacey feel. This reverberating addition makes the track feel like it’s one long rumination occurring within the singer’s memory.
Listening to this album, the often tossed around phrase “Cosmic American Music” comes to mind, but that still isn’t totally right. “Outsider Music” and “Singer-Songwriter” barely cover it either. With its combination of folk, country and hard rock elements plus the occasional hint of psychedelia, this is a record that truly exists as a singularity. It possesses a sound that is invented solely by DeCicca and his supporting musicians, and that’s all there is to it.
This record is a rare listening experience indeed, so you know you need to preorder a copy of it before its release this Friday. Click here to make it happen, my friends.