[I'm on with my rock 'n' roll pal Kaedy Kiely at 97.1 The River every Wednesday at 6:50 and 7:50 a.m. to talk about the latest rock news. Tune in to see what's up!]
Just because the Dave Matthews Band re-enlisted Steve Lillywhite to produce its eighth studio album doesn’t mean the band is trying to cling to its oddly creative ‘90s period with the producer.
Instead, “Away from the World” unwraps a mature DMB – musically, lyrically and vocally in terms of its frontman, who mercifully has all but ditched the annoying habit of singing through clenched teeth.
“Away” is the Charlottesville-Seattle-based band’s first recording since 2009’s “Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King,” an album understandably written in the shadows of the death of saxophonist LeRoi Moore. It’s also their first since taking 2011 off from touring and clearly, the break from the road benefited them in the studio.
While “Broken Things” launches the record with burps of brass and the slicker pop feel of more recent DMB recordings and “Belly Belly Nice” funks things up with cheeky lyrics, much of the album zigs and zags with shifting tempos, deft mixes of acoustic dips and swelling musical peaks.
Drummer Carter Beauford remains the band’s musical backbone, as he guides the see-sawing “Sweet” — which Matthews sings mostly in his pleasant upper range – and helps control the musical chaos of “Snow Outside.”
That track and the almost 10-minute “Drunken Soldier” close the album, and both are hallmarks of a veteran band that will never conform, yet has settled comfortably into the groove of these 11 songs.
“Soldier” starts softly before escalating into a mishmash of flamenco guitar, bursts of electric guitar and brass (handled by Jeff Coffin and Rashawn Ross). It feels as if something big is about to commence, like, perhaps, a bull fight, but then Boyd Tinsley’s violin saws the song down into a lullaby as Matthews reminds us, “We all grow up and someday we’ll say goodbye.”
Elsewhere on the record, a more emotionally established Matthews is heard convincingly pleading on “The Riff,” while “Gaucho” is another DMB combo special constructed with a sweet bridge and a haunting chorus of “please wake up” followed by chanting children – all to tell the band’s message of hope.
“Don’t waste time trying to be something you’re not,” Matthews sings on “Drunken Solider” – advice that this band has always taken to heart.
Also available Tuesday:
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene