Sound: This is the final album that saxophonist LeRoi Moore is set to appear on with the Dave Matthews Band. Having passed away, the band dedicated this entire album to the memory of their fallen comrade. Throughout the entire recording process, it is said that the band did not sleep. Whether this be just for fun, or their way of showing to their friend that they wanted nothing more than to honor his memory is left to the imaginations of the fans.
The sound of this album may surprise many longtime fans of the band. While there are some moments where the band seemed to get back to their roots, for the most part it is a completely new venture. Once again, the band has taken to reinventing their sound by focusing on a more polished sound, as opposed to the jam oriented songs they did years ago.
The first thing that many fans will notice is the excessive use of electric guitar, as opposed to Matthews' signature acoustic. While it is a step away from their usual direction, in most case, this is still presented in a very good fashion. But, that does not mean that Matthews' has completely abandoned the acoustic, as there are a few songs that are still completely driven in the classic DMB, acoustic style. Most notably, the final two songs of the album: Baby Blue and You & Me.
A more discerning ear should make note of the other band members as well. Long time collaborators, Rashawn Ross and Jeff Coffin make a strong appearance on this album, filling in for the late LeRoi Moore. Both Ross and Coffin hit every mark as though Moore was leading them through the songs himself. Lessard continues to maintain a very smooth and complex sound that he had been noted for in the past. But, the most remarkable is the drums of Beauford.
Beauford, although not changing his actual playing style, sticks out much more on this album than ever before. Due to a recording idea by one of the engineers working on the album, they were able to find a new sound for Beauford's drums. They sound more natural, more powerful, and just better overall on this album.
While the instrumentation is as rock-solid as ever, there are still a few low-points in this album.
The album begins with Grux, a very soulful solo that was recorded prior to Moore's passing. Without slowing, the album moves to Shake Me Like A Monkey, a trumpet driven song with rather risque lyrics. From here, the album moves onto it's first single, Funny The Way It Is. Some long time fans may criticize this song for being far too cookie-cutter to be considered the bands best work. Next, Lying In The Hands Of God, takes on an almost mystic tone as the singer speaks of an unbridled love. This song, more than most, seems reminiscent of the bands past style.
It is after the next to songs, Why I Am and Dive In, that the album takes its first dip. Spaceman, a contradiction within itself, featuring slow and smooth guitar work underneath quickly rattled lyrics. While not a terrible song in essence, it is a major leap away from the band's usual dynamic, and may not be well received. Squirm, the next track, seems to have taken inspiration from Kashmir by Led Zepplin. It is a powerful song, very foreboding and very ominous.
Alligator Pie is another dip into the cajun spice. Being driven by a unique banjo lead by quest performer Danny Barnes, it is best known for its coined phrase of "Daddy, when you gonna put me in a song," said by Matthew's daughter. It is in the next song Seven, that the album takes it second major dip. Sung almost entirely in falcetto, it is another song that seems to stray just a bit too far away from the bands roots to work. While recovering a bit from this dip with the next track, Time Bomb, it does not entirely recover.
It is with the last two tracks, Baby Blue and You & Me, that the album seems to go closer to the original DMB sound. Baby Blue, which by many is believed to be an evolution of the live song Sister, is a heartfelt love song, plain and simple. This trend carries over to You & Me which, despite a very poppy sound, manages to maintain a bit of the classic DMB style.
Overall, the album clearly has its high points and its low points. While fans, old and new alike, will certainly disagree on where, it can easily be said the album is far from perfect. // 7
Lyrics: Like any other album, Dave Matthews' voice stands out against most any other singer in the spotlight of today. Throughout the entire album, Matthews' maintains a very strong vocal presence, hitting every note he tries for. Although some may notice that Matthews' seems to have a bit of a loss in his falcetto, he still maintains his powerful presence.
Lyrically, the song is very different from the previous DMB albums. Due to the rest of the band getting involved in the songwriting process, listeners will notice that the lyrics will vary greatly from song to song. Some of them seemed to maintain their deeper, almost twisted, style that can be heard on older DMB albums. Whereas other tracks will contain lyrics that are a little more two dimensional and shallow.
Despite the lackluster lyrics at times, they flow well with the music surrounding. There is no debate on if the lyrics "fit" with the song they are accompanied by, it is simply a matter of how good the lyrics are to begin with. // 6
Overall Impression: Overall, while this appears to be a very solid album, when compared to previous Dave Matthews Band albums, it does not hold up in the same light. Since the bands interest in the songwriting process, there has been a clear divergence in the deeper and more meaningful lyrics that once filled every track of an album.
It has its low points, certainly, but where the album hits a high note, it is certainly a high note to be proud of. Songs such as Lying In The Hands Of God, Baby Blue, and Dive In, while sometimes different from classic style, seemed to maintain a stronger grip on what made the band big at the start of their career.
While I can listen to the album, I still find myself skipping tracks on occasion, which never happened on older albums by this band. I would still recommend this to anyone looking to get introduced to the band, but not present it as their best material.
My only hope is for their next album, they get back to what made them great: Have the band work on the instrumentation as a group, but leave the actual songwriting to the namesake of the band. // 6