Glad All Over
3.5 out of 5 stars
“Eyes on the prize/reboot the mission/I lost my sight but not the vision” sings the Clash’s Mick Jones on the chorus of the Wallflowers’ debut single from the band’s first album in five years. But even though Dylan Jr. released two largely acoustic sets under his own name since, this continuation (let’s not label it a comeback) reunites the singer/songwriter with co-founder/keyboardist Rami Jaffee and long time bassist Greg Richling for another go-round of lyrically challenging, tightly produced and played roots rock and roll.
The younger Dylan has admitted that the solo troubadour thing was only a career side road and being the frontman of a touring band remains his first love. Judging from these impressive results, he has picked up where he left off five years ago with an album that fits seamlessly into the Wallflowers’ existing five disc catalog. Despite the recent promotional blitz, a change of label from Interscope to Columbia and a not particularly indicative single that sounds like a pretty good Clash B-side, little has altered in the Wallflowers’ basic sonic template. Jaffee’s contributions remain mostly buried in the mix, making this a Dylan project in all but its name, although the extended layoff has provided a refreshed energy in the crisp soul undertones to songs such as the jaunty “It’s a Dream,” the funky, nearly danceable “Misfits and Lovers,” the frisky Motown vibe of “Have Mercy on Him Now” and the anthemic, Springsteen inspired “Love is a Country.” J. Dylan’s grainy croon remains instantly recognizable. Whether there is anything here that will capture the radio waves like 1996’s classic Bringing Down the Horse –- home of the Wallflowers’ three biggest hits that are still played on whatever rock stations are left–remains to be seen. But Dylan’s talent for matching, smart plentiful (arguably too much so) words to chiming melodies supported by a solid, unpretentious rock band and sung with conviction has returned.
Unlike other backing outfits like the E Street Band or Petty’s Heartbreakers, the largely faceless Wallflowers don’t have an identifiable sound. Guitarist Stuart Mathis gets few chances to strut whatever stuff he might have in Dylan’s tightly constructed songs, only two of which break the four minute mark. Dylan remains the star of the show, spitting out sharp, somewhat obtuse lyrics that push rockers like the opening “Hospital for Sinners” and the following “Misfits and Lovers,” the latter a zippy track with a singalong chorus and a rhythm that borrows from “This is Radio Clash”’s insistent backbeat.
Haters might cry “retro” but there are no false notes here. Like his dad, Dylan’s earthy style never tried to jump on any trend or bandwagon. It makes this new material reminiscent of everything that has come before. More atmospheric elements like the story song of “Constellation Blues” benefit from producer Jay Joyce’s hands off style that keeps Dylan’s lyrics clear and upfront while the band lays down a throbbing undercurrent complete with mournful slide guitar. It mirrors the song’s downbeat account of a small town soldier who questions his no-future life, told from the viewpoint of its disheartened protagonist. The demonic lyrics of “Devil’s Waltz” are reflected in its ominous swamp beat, guitarist Mathis’ distorted solo and Dylan’s leather tough singing. Jaffee’s keyboards, that have previously played a minor part in the album’s sonics, lead the closing “One Set of Wings,” urged on by new drummer Jack Irons’ (ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers) forceful attack.
“All I want is the truth/Just give me some truth,” Jakob once sang when covering John Lennon and it’s easy to hear why he picked “Gimme Some Truth” among all the Lennon choices. His artistic viewpoint has always been to stick to his musical guns, regardless of what’s fashionable. And while that won’t sell tonnage or get his Wallflowers on commercial radio, it’s clear he doesn’t care. Let him continue releasing music as pure and passionate as the songs here. He’s in it for the long haul, the Wallflowers are his vision and mission and any reboots are most welcome.