Dave Matthews Band

RCA Records, 2001


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." Not that Dave Matthews bears any resemblance to a Dickens character - Kesey and Salinger seem more his speed - but how else to begin a review that might be subtitled "A Tale of Two Albums"?

When the Dave Matthews Band set out to record a new studio album in spring 2000 with long-time producer Steve Lillywhite, it seems they had no particular goal in mind. It seems, because the tracks from those session - the now infamous Lillywhite sessions, available at a Napster clone near you - sounded like a virtual continuation of their previous effort, 1998's Before These Crowded Streets.

That is a good thing and a bad thing. Over the course of its ten-year rise from Charlottesville, Virginia clubbing to selling out stadiums, the DMB's bread and butter has been the way its virtuoso players craft gorgeous, hypnotic jams from mere snippets of melody. With Leroi Moore's awe-inspiring arsenal of horns and Boyd Tinsley's cascading electric violin leading the way, they and the remarkable Carter Beauford (drums), Stefan Lessard (bass), and Matthews himself (acoustic guitar) have built a huge following with the intricate and often dramatic interplay between their exotic array of instruments.

That following largely embraced Before These Crowded Streets, despite the increasing aimlessness of the group's jams as compared to the tighter Under The Table And Dreaming and Crash albums that came before. The Lillywhite sessions, however, sound dangerously like a dead end, a set that has it moments of spectacular musicianship, but lacks restraint in terms of both the soloing and the lyrics (which are dark and cryptic even for a guy who regularly sings about lying in his grave). In a gutsy move, the band seems to have recognized the music wasn't taking them anywhere fresh, and pulled the plug.

Ditching the nearly-complete album, the band regrouped in LA, hired producer Glen Ballard - perhaps the perfect antithesis of their loose, make-it-all-sound-live style - and started over. In a remarkable burst of creativity, Matthews composed the lyrics and basic musical structure of this entire album in a matter of days as the band worked the songs in the studio. For his part, Ballard, who receives co-writing credit with Matthews on every song, took the group's distinctive sound and reshaped it, adding a variety of keyboard textures while stripping the songs down to four-minute, radio-friendly size. The biggest change was wrought by Matthews himself, though, when he set aside his acoustic guitar - the nimble but often understated foundation of the band's sound to date - and plugged in with a vengeance, a latter-day Dylan throwing down the gauntlet to his fans.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Matthews wastes no time getting his point across, opening this album by ripping into a chunky electric riff, with horns and violin nowhere in sight. Stating his case for change, he declares "I did it / Do you think I've gone too far? / I did it / Guilty as charged / I did it / It was me, right or wrong / I did it / Yeaaahhh." This muscular tune bristles with a restless energy that never lets up, while sounding nothing like anything the band has done before, tight and urgent and very much centered on Matthews' guitar. Moore's principal contribution to "I Did It" is a natty little sax coda he appends to the last two choruses, a sharp touch whose very economy amplifies its effectiveness.

Moore and Tinsley are similarly restrained through the next three tracks, the smoldering "Where The World Ends," the gorgeous "The Space Between," with its supple, shimmering melody, and the hyperactive skiffle of "Dreams Of Our Fathers." Matthews's sinuous electric leads and Ballard's atmospheric keyboards fill most of the space on these tracks, leaving you wondering until Matthews brings Moore and Tinsley back to the forefront for "So Right," an alternately funky and soaring track that pulls out all stops musically without ever digressing. Moore's tasty sax solo and Tinsley's rich melodic fills are both terrific and concise. Notable also is the fact that this is the generally dour Matthews's first truly exuberant song about a relationship, the first time he's ever let fly with the idea that love might actually work sometimes.

Other high points include the exotic Middle Eastern tones and foreboding violin backdrops of the eerie "What You Are," the guest shot by Carlos Santana (returning the favor from Supernatural) on "Mother Father," and the sweetly rollicking acoustic gospel of the closing title track.

On many of these tracks it's easy to see how the songs could have stretched out. It's tempting to imagine a Tinsley solo soaring over the urgent rhythm of "Sleep To Dream Her," or Moore blowing a seductive suite of his own through the middle of the bluesy ballad "Angel." But the tracks are musically challenging as they stand, with sharp rhythmic turns and exotic soundscapes. The chief difference is that they're more tightly arranged than anything the band has done before -- in other words, exactly the kind of fresh approach this band needed to shake itself out of the doldrums it had fallen into.

Some of the band's long-time fans are beside themselves over Everyday. Change is always hard, but I also think it's a mistake to see this album as defining the DMB's future. It's simply an evolutionary steppingstone, an experiment that's necessarily awkward at times, but essential for the band's continued growth.

In the moving "If I Had It All," Matthews sings "If I were giant sized, on top if it all / Tell me what in the world would I sing for?" In other words, what's the point of life, or art, if you're not challenged, if you never take any chances? Good question, Dave. Good question.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B-



© 2001 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.