The Dolly Express
DarkChild Gospel / By Any Means Necessary LLC
(release date: June 9, 2017)
By Bob Marovich
The Dolly Express, the main conceit of Jermaine Dolly’s debut full-length album of the same name, bears similarity to the storied Gospel Train, the subject of old hymns, with a couple important exceptions.
First, while only the saved are welcome on board the Gospel Train, Dolly’s locomotive invites everyone on this free trip. And second, the conductor is not Jesus but Dolly himself. His duty, like a good Christian, is to lead his passengers along the journey to eternal salvation through personal example.
This all sounds very dramatic, but to Dolly, who is part comedian, humor is a means to an end. Offering a message while putting a smile on someone’s face is an effective communication tool. Dolly uses this tool on two skits interspersed on the album, but it’s the opening song, “Get on the Train,” that outlines the theme more explicitly and thoroughly than any other song on the album. It has a funky underpinning though its vamp continues for about 90 seconds too long.
As a singer-songwriter and actor, the likeably goofy Dolly evokes Tye Tribbett, with whom he has apprenticed. From Tribbett Dolly has learned how to dress up a message with humor but not so much that it crosses the line of good taste. Fred Jerkins III’s production touches are evident throughout the album.
Dolly’s wit is also on display in the current single, “Come and Knock on Our Door.” Just as the Dolly Express welcomes everyone aboard, so, too, can the church. But Dolly recognizes that some churchgoers have left their respective flocks for a variety of reasons, mostly involving a personal hurt. The song, with its playful interpolation of the theme of the 1970s sitcom Three’s Company, encourages former member and unbeliever alike to set aside their cynicism and hurt and try church. “I Don’t Want to be Moses” cleverly expresses Dolly’s impatience with the amount of time it takes to make change happen.
Also included on the album is “You,” the song that brought Dolly national attention as a solo artist. With its steady in-the-pocket groove, “You” is Dolly explaining that Christ’s presence in his life is the reason he is so happy. Dolly exercises his ceiling-high falsetto on this selection but, as with “Train,” he could have knocked a good minute off the vamp.
“You” and “Door” have netted most of the interest, but “Waiting” deserves as much attention. A pop ballad in melody, tempo, and construction, it contains a wholly religious message. It acknowledges that the world is a mess, but Christians must trust in Jesus and be patient for his intercession. At this point, Dolly admits that trouble may not last always, but it might take some time to fix, even if, as on “Moses,” he prefers a faster fix. He smartly makes the vamp (a falsetto flight that channels Prince) its own selection.
“Serve” and “I’ll Go” are two other tracks of note. These melodic promises to serve God no matter what demonstrate Dolly’s versatility as a songwriter and vocalist. These, more than the novelty songs, will propel his career as a gospel singer.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Waiting,” “Serve,” “I’ll Go.”
Check out JGM‘s June 2017 interview with Jermaine Dolly.