This is a contribution from reader David Jones.
Fathers, beaches, teachers, photographs, Bob Dylan, unruly teenagers and even health spas: These are just some of the things Georgia-based singer/songwriter Mike Dekle pays tribute to on his fifth album, appropriately entitled Tributes – and it could easily be one of the best independently-released albums of the year so far.
Age apparently breeds insight, and Dekle’s songs are not so much austere ruminations on the subjects he touches upon, but slice-of-life songs aided by a gentle but detailed narrative. Similarly, these aren’t stories in the traditional sense, or carefully delineated portraits, but snapshots of everyday life which weave a common thread of appreciation around each tune.
Dekle has a warm tenor which he uses delicately, demonstrating a control that could teach younger, Nashville-based acts a thing or two. He uses his melodious voice as an instrument in its own right, delivering the lines with sublime finesse. Usually, when a songwriter adept at writing songs for other people (Dekle has penned hits for Joe Nichols and Kenny Rogers, among others) becomes a recording artist, the end result is something which would sound better from another performer – Luke Bryan and Phil Vassar fall into this category for me – but with Dekle, I think the ultimate performances of these songs are the ones on display here.
The quality on this album is unrelenting. I can honestly say I’ve heard Greatest Hits packages with weaker songs. If someone told me this CD was a Best of Dekle collection, I’d have no trouble believing them.
Right from the off, with “The Ballad of the Working Man,” Dekle shows us a song which could have been written by the Hag. Although midtempo – like most of the cuts here – it’s a little pessimistic, which contrasts with the rest of disc’s jovialness, later epitomized by the aggressive positivity of “It’s All Good.”
A clear single is “That’s a Keeper.” Hearing it for the first time, I couldn’t help but notice its melodic and lyrical similarities to Kenny Chesney’s chart-topper “The Good Stuff.” Although both numbers’ choruses lists things to remember or be thankful for, Dekle’s number is definitely the superior of the two, as the production is more delicate, unlike the grandiloquent production on the Chesney song.
“Island Breeze” sounds similarly Chesney-eque, but this is no Jimmy Buffett cast-off. The lyrics are wonderfully effective and gently humorous, focusing on Dekle’s encounter with a woman whose boat isn’t working (“Baby don’t panic/I’m a marine mechanic/And I specialize in fixing boats/And there’s been times I’ve even repaired/A heart that some man broke”). The lighthearted tone continues with “Rub-A-Bubba” which reminds me of those early ’90s novelty hits by Sammy Kershaw and Joe Diffie.
Another highlight is “Miss Jones” which details the narrator’s love for a teacher, but unlike Elton John’s 1973 album cut “Teacher, I Need You,” the narrator here isn’t in school, but lives in the flat below the subject of his infatuation. Like all the numbers on this disc, the chorus is delicately performed with gentle backing. It offers a catchy and irresistibly fresh angle to a relatable theme, much like “Them Boys,” where we see a gang of adolescents driving around town causing hassle and annoying the elder folk. Generational matters again take center stage in the poignant “The Old Man (Is Getting Younger Every Day).”
“Heartache Can Swim” seems at first a clumsy title, but when the lyrics are heard, and we meet the protagonist who is trying to drown his sorrows but finds that the memories just won’t quit, it all becomes soberingly real, and the lyrics (“You smell smoke on his clothes/But he can’t see the fire/That’s torching his future”) paint pictures in a way that would make Tom T. Hall proud.
Dekle announces on one of the tracks that he would be lost without music, and on an earlier number enthuses on his first inspiration – Bob Dylan – and how the ’60s folk legend is the reason Dekle is a songwriter. He sings of Dylan that “I truly believe there’s a genius in you,” and I believe the same could be said of Mike Dekle.