Jakob Dylan – Women + Country

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Dylan’s second solo CD opens with “Nothing But the Whole Wide World,” a song that instantly sets the tone for the remainder of the set.  Jakob Dylan - Women + Country It’s a fairly simple song, one that somehow sounds familiar to “something” you may heard however many years ago.  That tone is generally termed “Americana,” – drums, acoustic guitar, fiddle, pedal steel, and acoustic bass. 

Actually, it’s the last that sonically dominates this set.  The acoustic bass’ deep thud underpins each song with an evenhanded, steady variation that defines each tune as much as it follows it.  Acoustic guitars, at times joined by horns or keyboards, provide a consistent feel.  The pedal steel…  Well, it begs the question whether Americana is distinct from Country only by Nashville’s preference for affected vocal stylings.  Some of the songs here could be covered by Country artists with much success.

The CD was produced by T Bone Burnett, producer du jour for what is becoming that “T Bone Burnett sound.”  Hired are the same session musicians that he used when he produced Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ pairing on Raising Sand a few years ago.  That collaboration worked well enough, but the songs they chose to cover were fairly dour despite the instrumental beauty. 

Here, the former Wallflowers front man pursues a different line of negativity.  Dylan writes songs that reflect on hard times, tested faith, regrets, and flawed love.  These certainly aren’t uplifting themes, but Dylan elevates and delivers his stories as much as from the role of an observer as a dispirited participant:

Been walking the dirt floor, my eyes are open Lord

Where did you go, have we just left you bored?

On down this unholy well we rolled

Stirring barrels in hell to be warm

It’s further back down than to high ground

Ain’t milk, ain’t honey we’re moving around

Only one thing is certain

That everybody

Everybody’s hurting

Like his father, he knows how to write a lyric.  Here’s a sample of the diction:  blacktop, rivets, pastures, scrape, scaled, bloodhounds, sleeves, hourglass, potluck, hatchet, optimist, and border – and that’s just in the first three songs.  It’s obvious that Dylan has taken a lot of care to craft his prose, yet at the same time, they fit fairly simplistic meters and phrasings that would sound authentic if sung on a porch or around a fire. 

Dylan’s vocal range is not tested on this effort, blending in with an overall pleasant and soothing sound that seeks that “timeless” feel.  Neko Case and Kelly Hogan provide splendid background vocals, provided needed accents to Dylan’s even delivery, though it’s unfortunate that they weren’t given any moments to shine more brightly.  And that, perhaps, is where the CD falls a little short.   With or without the female accompaniment, songs such as “Smile When You Call Me That” and “Yonder Come the Blues” beg for a vocal treatment with a biting edge, but I guess Americana is expected to sound rather… flat.

Recommended Songs: “Nothing But the Whole Wide World,” “Down on Your Own Shield,” “Lend a Hand,” “Holy Rollers for Love”

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

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