In the wake of LeRoi Moore’s death, the DMB crew started going through a transformation. The band’s sound, in particular, started to grow a little darker on Big Whiskey and the GrooxGrux King, but in terms of a whole new, complete band, they hadn’t sounded that good in about a decade. That’s not a knock on LeRoi, but the band spent a lot of the 2000’s experimenting with sounds and producers. Starting in 2001, after abandoning the Lillywhite Sessions (though officially unreleased, their decade’s best work, next to Big Whiskey.), the band made a pop record (Everyday). From there, songs culled from the Lillywhite Sessions became Busted Stuff with the slight addition of “Where Are You Going.” Finally, the band worked with Mark Batson on Stand Up, perhaps their most experimental piece of the decade.
With a new purpose, the band became more focused than ever. After LeRoi’s death, the band officially made Rashawn Ross a member, and added Jeff Coffin of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones to the group to fill out the horns section. They also added the guitar virtuoso stylings of Tim Reynolds, long time collaborator with the group, rounding out their current lineup.
Back with their first new album in just over three years, Away from the World finds the band revisiting simple melodies, hopeful messages, and the on’ry life of a man and a band, trying to fix the world, one song at a time.
This record see’s Steve Lillywhite, the producer behind the band’s 90’s offerings, Under the Table and Dreaming, Crash, and Before These Crowded Streets. People looking for the playful nature or tone of those records should think again. This is a band who has “moved on” per-say from this time period. In a sense, this album has more in common with Everyday, in it’s pop sensibilities, simple melodies, and meaning, all via Lillywhite instead of Glen Ballard.
In a tonal shift, Away from the World has some fun tracks, and a less serious ambiance in areas. Songs like “Snow Outside” sound like a winter’s day with your mate, sliding up and down those hills; it’s just pure fun. It’s improvisational moments towards the end of the track echo to past DMB work, particularly on Before These Crowded Streets. The opening riff on “Rooftop” is an odd combination of “What Would You Say” and “Rhyme & Reason.” Granted, its a fun track, but the comparison is uncanny. It’s tempo change is a nice opening window of new tricks.
The band offers up a great one-two punch in the tracks “Mercy” and “Gaucho.” If “Mercy” is the realization and the promise, “Gaucho” is the fulfillment of that promise as Matthews bellows: “we gotta do much more than believe, if we want to see the world change.” The melody of “Gaucho” sounds like a sped up version of one of Dave’s solo tracks, “Stay or Leave.” However, with layers added, especially with quick riffing horns and Reynold’s electric guitar, it’s immeasurable. The opening track, “Broken Things” does a great job, setting up the album’s main focuses; as love and activism populate the track, the melody is addicting, the prelude for a smooth transition into the rest of the album.
Through all stages of Dave Matthews Band’s discography over the past ten or so years, this album almost repeats a cycle. Away from the World is more a pop style album than the proclaimed Jam Band have released in sometime. More so, it’s Everyday done right, not rushed and well thought out. In recent interviews, Dave Matthew’s has proclaimed that he wants his band to be more than a jam band, and with this record, they’ve accomplished that. It’s not a continuation of the last record, but forward momentum in a style that shows a promising future for the band. Despite it’s minor flaws, this will go down as a great start to the band’s decade, especially through repeated listens.
Album Rating: Stream it on Spotify or Digitally Download It (Legally of course!)
Listening Co-efficient: Active Listen
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