The Dylan Soul
The first time I heard Jakob Dylan was in the mid-1990s when his band, The Wallflowers, released their breakthrough album, Bringing Down the Horse. I had bought a cassette that I played once on the long daily commute I used to do those days in Bombay and got immediately hooked to songs like 6th Avenue Heartache and Three Marlenas. My companion then and (usually) co-passenger also loved the album but I suspect that in her case Jakob Dylan’s looks also had something to do with her affection for his music.
Frankly, for most of us, whether you admit it or not, it had to do with the fact that Jakob was the son of Bob and when Bob’s son is the frontman of a band you jolly well go out and buy their album. Bringing Down The Horse, I believe, was a multi-platinum album, which meant it sold two million or more copies. Most of the 11 songs on the album were eminently listenable—somewhere between folk and rock with fairly intelligent lyrics. But nothing on it could hold you spellbound. Then, in 2000, The Wallflowers came out with (Breach), which got better reviews, I think, than Bringing Down The Horse did. I bought that one too. And played it in the car. My companion (yes, the same one) loved it. Perhaps it was because, unlike Bringing Down The Horse, which had some artwork and no photographs, the cover of (Breach) featured the handsome Jakob Dylan.
But The Wallflowers’ albums didn’t become my go-to albums. Soon, they got relegated to somewhere in the backwaters of my music collection, not sought after or missed much. Between 2000 and 2005, The Wallflowers came out with two new albums. I haven’t bought them. Neither have I heard them.
So why did I buy Jakob Dylan’s new album, Women and Country? Well, one reason was that it is produced by the legendary T-Bone Burnett, who is not only known for his Midas’ touch but who also produced Bringing Down The Horse, which had first hooked me to Jakob Dylan’s music, albeit then as part of The Wallflowers. The second reason was that Women and Country had Dylan collaborating with singer-songwriters, Neko Case and Kelly Hogan. Neko Case, I’m a big fan of—whether she’s performing with the great Canadian band, The New Pornographers or is on her own. If you haven’t checked her out, you must get 2009’s Middle Cyclone or listen to the Pornographers’ albums. Kelly Hogan works in Neko Case’s band but is also a singer-songwriter of repute herself.
And, of course, there was Jakob Dylan himself. I wanted to give him another shot. As for the cover artwork of the album, there’s not only a photograph of Dylan but he’s on a white horse… with a girl. At 40, he’s still looking good. So, there were enough reasons to pick up the album. It didn’t disappoint. Dylan’s baritone voice has the same intimacy and softness that it had on Bringing Down The Horse. Case and Hogan, however, feature only as backing vocalists but they do make a big difference. The songs have mature lyrics and are about hardscrabble life in American small towns as well as about love and life. The only problem: Dylan, an L.A. native lacks the roughness or the edge that some of these songs seem to need. Here’s one blasphemously wicked thought I had: what if his father’s raspy voice replaced his on some of these? Would that have made for an even better record?
Three to Tango:
1. Jonesing for retro soul: Here are two more tracks from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.
2. Toadcast: A completely arbitrary podcast without a theme. But what fun!
3. Swan Fungus: Immense fun and so much new music nearly everyday.