Dolorean is a Portland, Oregon-based band that started out playing country rock that's been compared to music acts ranging from Townes Van Zandt to Neil Young, but they move steadily into pop music territory. The band's new album, called "The Unfazed," is their first in nearly four years.

Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.

(Soundbite of song, "If I Find Love")

DOLOREAN (Rock Band): (Singing) Thirty years, I'm nearly halfway home. More or less, I'll never know. Well, my heart's been broken, but my heart's still strong. If I find love, I won't let go. If I find love, I won't let go.

KEN TUCKER: Dolorean lead singer Al James sings: If I find love, I won't let it go. It's a measure of his vocal dexterity that he manages to make that conditional phrase sound wistful and - from the way he mashes the last five words together - both hopeless and hopeful.

Conflicted is Al James' default mode. On that same song, "If I Find Love," he admits: The trouble is, I've been on both sides - been a jealous husband and with others' wives. And yet, emerging from soggy Oregon after four years of touring and writing, Dolorean does not sound dolorous. The band's music is deliberate, but not maudlin. Its brooding has a stand-up-straight backbone.

(Soundbite of song, "Hard Working Dogs")

DOLOREAN: (Singing) Drunken sailors run as pure lightning, enjoying each morning. It's the middle of the night, and your phone keeps ringing. It's your new life calling. You pick it up and let it go to the machine. Either way, there's no denying. Best of intentions never win out over true love's brutal timing.

We wash the hands of it. The word love is frightening. Love is frightening.

TUCKER: That's the kind of music that gets Dolorean compared to Neil Young, with its "Down by the River" guitar chords and the way Al James curls his voice up into a keening, but polite wail. What distinguishes the song most is the way the lushness of the melody contrasts with the rumination and the lyrics. This is even more meticulously apparent in another song about squabbling lovers called "Thinskinned."

(Soundbite of song, called "Thinskinned")

DOLOREAN: (Singing) It only takes one bird under the shadow. And you and I, babe, oh, we do battle. Seems like we're just too thin-skinned, thin-skinned, thin-skinned, thin-skinned.

I've got my brother's car...

TUCKER: I can't believe it would be better if you were tough as nails and I was tough as leather, sings Al James in the refrain. James is a sensitive singer-songwriter in the best sense: He describes his own emotions, yes, but he also seeks to get under the skin of the person he's involved with.

Specifically, he says, I'll do my best to see your point of view if you do your best to see that I'm not such a bad guy. This is, of course, the stuff of a thousand self-help, couples-therapy books, so what makes James' insights useful is the music that underpins them. And what the Dolorean quintet offers is mood music that summons up the states of romantic frustration, confusion and curiosity - with few traces of self-pity.

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Boy")

DOLOREAN: (Singing) A lie when we met. It was an honest mistake. I said I could wait for your past to fade away. I had no idea what I was talking about. Hey, what a sweet boy you made of me now.

Late sunrise...

TUCKER: The sweet boy in the title of that song is the narrator himself. It's a variation on the old idea that the love of a good woman makes him a better man: Oh, what a sweet boy you've made of me. This is stated over a slow rhythm that's almost a dragging waltz. The entire creation is potentially insufferable, but Dolorean has a way of making such music rich and sweet.

On the title song of this album, "The Unfazed," Al James recites a list of things he's unfazed by: Unfazed by pain, unfazed by love, he sings. He's also unfazed by jokes with no punch line and live until he dies. It can seem, on a first listen, that Dolorean's new album is a slow-paced journey into Al James' navel, but he's unfazed by that, too.

He knows that as you continue to listen, you're going to get caught up in the things he's caught up in - trying to put to music the clutter that comprises a life together. And he's unfazed by that daunting challenge, too.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "The Unfazed"' by the band Dolorean.

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