Bob Dylan's boy
Fighting dad's legendary shadow: Jakob Dylan comes into his own
Is it a coincidence that T-Bone Burnett served as producer for Jakob Dylan’s new album "Women + Country", which contains the singer-songwriter’s finest work since Burnett was also at the helm for Dylan’s stellar 1995 release with The Wallflowers, "Bringing Down the Horse"?
Probably not, but let’s not go giving all the credit to T-Bone’s Midas touch just yet.
The truth is that Burnett certainly has added some nifty embellishments, as well as his signature murky textures, that bring out the very best in Jakob’s songwriting. But the latter is responsible for the songs themselves, 11 brilliantly understated constructions filled with elegance and grit. And those songs are ultimately what imbue "Women + Country" with its timeless appeal.
On his first solo foray, 2008’s "Seeing Things", Dylan wrote lovely songs that were just a tad too detached, easy to admire but difficult to love. But right from the first notes on the new album, there’s an ease and warmth that immediately draws the listener in. Originally intended for Glen Campbell, “Nothing But The Whole Wide World” actually ambles along like some lost Ricky Nelson classic, with Dylan singing lines filled with freedom and possibilities: “Nothing to lose but rivets and chains/Got nothing but the whole wide world to gain.”
As often happens, writing for other another singer seems to open up a new path for Dylan. His songs have never been as directly affecting as they are here. The downbeat path trod by “Everybody’s Hurting” contains striking imagery throughout, but in the chorus the singer gets down to the hard-earned truth of the situation: “We’ve got to learn to live with these ghosts/They can’t leave, we can’t go.”
What Burnett has provided are the elements that keep Dylan’s voice from drifting into the passionless deadpan that sometimes inhibits him. He does this by adding female backing vocalists Neko Case and Kelly Hogan and some well-timed pedal steel to rise above the rumble and thump rhythms.
And while Dylan might not have quite enough idiosyncratic vocal personality to pull off the stomping beat and squawking prohibition horns that accompany “Lend A Hand” (think Tom Waits), you can’t deny that it provides a nice piece of variety within the album itself.
Maybe Burnett’s memory helped as well. Back on "Bringing Down the Horse", hidden amidst all the shiny '90s-rock hits was a standout tear-in-your-beer country weeper called “I Wish I Felt Nothing.” Always miscast as a rocker, Dylan may have really hit his solo wheelhouse with similar last-call laments on the new album, as “Down On Your Own Shield” and “Smile When You Call Me That” are gracefully heartbreaking beauties.
"Women + Country" storms out of town with the bruising closer “Standing Eight Count,” more horns showing up to accentuate the bluesy track. It’s another subtle T Bone touch that shows why he’s the preeminent Americana producer. The triumph, however, is all Dylan’s to claim. He has crafted an album that transcends his foremost influences and even the impossible-to-ignore family name.
The most exciting part about it is that, some 15 years into his career, he has found a niche which truly suits his talent, which means he could be just getting warmed up.
Adobe Flash Required for flash player."Nothing But the Whole Wide World"
Adobe Flash Required for flash player."Everybody's Hurting"
Adobe Flash Required for flash player."Smile When You Call Me That"