Dave Matthews Band – [Album]

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Maybe I'm simple or maybe I'm not much of a fan, but has anyone else ever noticed how stylistically wayward Dave Matthews' music has been on an album-to-album basis? Granted, there have usually (and 'usually' is the operative word) been a few common sonic elements that factor in – there is often a horn section appended to the band, Matthews always sings with that characteristic 'Southern Man' twang and Tim Reynolds often waits somewhere in the wings with his guitar – but the results have never exactly been the same for each album. To date, Matthews has plied those common elements into funk and soul workouts (Everyday), coffeehouse folk (Crash), jazz (Under The Table And Dreaming), folk-noir (Stand Up) as well as a few more permutations and, as a savant would, does it all with an unassuming ambition that makes it all seem like the easiest thing in the world when, in fact, each stylistic move  is a fairly radical departure.

The irony is the fact that, no matter which way Dave Matthews has steered his players, it has never been in an unmistakably rockist direction; he's skirted around it, but never launched full-bore into rock orthodoxy.

Never, that is, until now on Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King.

There's no denying Matthews' arena rock intentions as Big Whiskey explodes wide open with the inclusions of electric guitar and bracing, neatly orchestrated string sections that hit listeners like the greatest shock ever undertaken by the singer. Matthews carries off a staggering and bombastic, balls-out surge masterfully in songs like “Shake Me Like A Monkey,” “Why I Am,” and (most exquisitely) in “Squirm” that all play like the work of a contender for the title of the biggest band in the world and make a convincing case for that stake at the same time. While the singer does obviously take great pains to keep some of his 'Bama wits about him (the epic-sounding “Alligator Pie” is shifted into overdrive by dominant banjo and lapsteel parts), even those are inflated to mammoth proportions under the influence of producer Rob Cavallo yet, even with that additional muscle, at no point does the singer become overwhelmed or lost in the mixes. There's no doubt that, even in “Seven,” he is the master of these ceremonies and cannot be overturned.

As the album begins to wind down through the eery “Time Bomb,” “Baby Blue” and “You & Me,” some time does get taken to get back to center with some contemplative gentility reinforced by the pathetic fallacy of the string section employed (if “Baby Blue” doesn't end up on an episode of Grey's Anatomy next season, no one will be more surprised than me), but that also gives the singer a way out to perform another transition on the next album; by gently easing out as he does here, Matthews will be free to surprise fans with another new form next time out, where if he'd gone out with a bang, he'd almost be obligated to start that way on the follow-up. With all of that in mind, it begs the question of whether there is and always has been a design through which Matthews has always worked and listeners simply haven't previously been privy to it. Time will tell but, for now, just hit play on Big Whiskey again – the surprise doesn't fade on repeat.


Dave Matthews Band Online

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“Funny The Way It Is” from Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King.


Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King is out now and available here on Amazon .

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