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Shifting Gears 

New directions from three generations of musicians

click to enlarge Everyday
  • Everyday

Everyday
Dave Matthews Band
RCA

Here's the plan: Buy Everyday now and blow up your radio tonight. The hundredth monkey is about to tune in, signaling the media saturation of a band already leading the pack of stadium-sized tours. Take comfort; the new album isn't the departure it's hyped to be, but it is a statement emphasizing the Dave Matthews Band's penchant for off-rhythms and dischordance with a newly electrified accent to their otherwise acoustic character. It's a more aggressive sound, on the edge of anger, puzzling through recurring images of apocalyptic rain, dreaming mysteries, wicked lies and emptiness.

The strength of this album is ironically evident in the songs omitted, such as "Bartender" and "Grace is Gone," concert favorites that didn't make the cut when the band switched from longtime producer Steve Lillywhite to the streamlined sensibilities of Glen Ballard. While the old material may have had a doomed tone to it, Matthews brings brightness to songs celebrating apocalyptical sexual uplifting, calling the graces home with lyrics about "floating through the empty empty," and assuring devotees, "When the world ends, we'll be burning one/When the world ends we'll be makin' sweet love."

Matthews' best songs are always cloaked in a smoky haze, both powerfully suggestive and invitingly open-ended. Embracing the way "fickle fuddle words confuse me," Matthews deconstructs his larger-than-life identity like an unraveling sweater, pulling "you out like strings of memories/Wish I could weave them into you/And I could figure the whole damn puzzle out." Though they often remain unfathomable to the listener, Matthews' puzzles have the confidence of potential solutions, enticing us with smoke and promising a payoff of substance.

Matthews' lyrics remain uncompromisingly literate, and the only concession the album makes is to condense the band's stretched-out style into radio-friendly four-minute bytes. While too many songwriters repeatedly circle around half-decent thoughts that can't carry a song, Matthews can barely cram it all into a verse, filling lines with the choking, clawing, scraping, scratching and digging out of a surreal nightmare ride -- to wake in the "Dreams of our Fathers." This generational plea is echoed again with Matthews back on acoustic guitar and Carlos Santana playing electric on "Mother Father," digging a hole to the middle of a storm of hatred with the warning: "we're taking on water,"/ "there's no god above, no hell below," and "it's up to us/to keep afloat."

The album's uplifting coda is its title song, a riff on the Beatlesque belief that all you need is love. Matthews immerses himself in the spirit, calling listeners to "Jump in the mud/Get your hands dirty with/Love it up everyday." Listeners should find it an undiluted indulgence, a welcome wallow in the unwatered-down dream world of Matthews' imagination.

click to enlarge Reptile
  • Reptile

Reptile
Eric Clapton
Reprise

Eric Clapton describes his state of mind going into the making of Reptile as one of "suspended animation." It's easy to imagine how that state could result in moments of inspired creativity, but on Reptile, which is chameleon-like in its constantly shifting nature, the result is a sense of drifting.

The original Clapton songs making up half of the tracks on the album are disturbingly light. A song like "Believe in Life" ends up as saccharine-laced as its title implies, with passable acoustic pop enduring until Clapton and The Impressions on backing vocals slip into lyrics like "doo doo doo doo doo doo" in a fit of easy listening.

Clapton and co-producer Simon Climie had success working with the same core musicians on last year's Grammy-winning Riding with the King, benefiting throughout from the guiding presence of B.B. King. Reptile's best material maintains the old-school ethic of his work with King, a blistering cover of Ray Charles' "Come Back Baby" and a rollicking roadhouse version of "Got You on My Mind" laced with Clapton's jangling acoustic slide. Clapton seems to use the studio for his more experimental work, getting it out of his system before bringing the best stuff on tour. He benefits from producers who can save him from frivolous impulses and tap into his better, repressed instincts, and Climie too often isn't up to the task.

Seasoned Clapton fans can cut through the studio layering to hear the searing soulful vocal tour de force on his cover of James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," despite its teetering on the edge of crippling overproduction with a string section and syrupy vocals from The Impressions. The album rarely sinks low enough that Clapton and his bandmates -- including Billy Preston on piano, Hammond organ and harmonica -- can't lift up the pop sampling with some transcendent, if brief, rock improvisation.

"Find Myself" is a nostalgic-sounding song, culling an older era's sensibility. It epitomizes the suspended animation Clapton floats in while lost in the memories of his childhood, recalling the sounds of that era, and culling emotion once removed. It's hard to knock Clapton's desire to keep searching, exploring and experimenting. He's astounded us time and again with his breakthroughs into fascinating new territory, and if the songs on Reptile aren't visionary or ground-breaking, they are, for the most part, a perfectly enjoyable change of pace that is (knock on wood) unlikely to evolve into a new direction.


click to enlarge The Captain
  • The Captain

The Captain
Kasey Chambers
Asylum/Warner Bros.

Textured by twanging guitar, fiddle, roots rock percussion and the sweet, crystal-clear voice of Australian born singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers, The Captain offers up an earful of earnest pop-tinged country tunes.

Heavily influenced by giants like Emmylou Harris, Steve Earl and Lucinda Williams, Chambers takes us on a diverse musical journey in this, her debut CD. Instrumentally, her songs encompass everything from traditional country lamenting to country-rock to folk to bluegrass. True to the genre, the upbeat melodies on this CD occasionally contrast Chambers' sometimes melancholy lyrics, but given the fact that she wrote most of the songs between the ages of 15 and 22, there is remarkable depth to her words.

On a song called "Southern Kind of Life," for example, her words ring with raw, emotional authenticity. Autobiographical in nature, she shares with us the experience of growing up in a small Southern town that wasn't even on the map. "Old friends and bibles filled our house/No room for money, no money anyhow/Deprived was something we always heard/But to me and my brother it was just another word."

Throughout the CD, Chambersreveals her ability to tell a story and simultaneously paint a picture. But it is on the last track of the CD where Chambers lets it all hang out. On "We're All Gonna Die Someday" Chambers showcases her raucous side and sense of humor. With fiddle, acoustic guitar, dobro and twangy harmonizing, the song shines in its full-blown bluegrass style and sassy lyrics. "We're all gonna die someday lord/We're all gonna die someday/ Momma's on pills Daddy's over the hill/We're all gonna die someday."

On her country-rock ditty called "Cry Like a Baby," the 24-year-old Chambers croons, "Well I'm not much like my generation/Their music only hurts my ears." She's right. In an industry of often overproduced and underdeveloped "talent," Chambers' innocent-sounding voice, descriptive lyrics and musical style set her apart from many of her peers. The Captain isn't going to turn the music world upside down, but Chambers has talent and style, and her insight and non-glitzy approach are refreshing.

  • New directions from three generations of musicians

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