My first exposure to Dave Matthews Band was on VH1 storytellers. I was immediately taken in by the acoustic guitar toting Matthews, the violins and saxophones, the lovely rhythms and the whole ‘jam band’ atmosphere. Though I heard their other stuff as well, it was the songs they played on storytellers “So much to say”, “Too much”, “Satellite” etc., which went and camped under my skin, making me go back and take a hit of DMB ever so often.
Sadly, one member of this addictive mixture is gone, and Big Whiskey pays tribute to LeRoi Moore in a number of ways, from the album cover to lyrical references. Matthew’s mental state and observations regarding life in general after the tragic death of saxophonist LeRoi Moore seem to progressively get darker as the album progresses, from the optimism on What I am to genuine anger towards the end of Time Bomb. Other than that, there is still a pretty even split between somewhat-love songs and Dave Matthews’ commentary on the human condition.
In the music, DMB have attempted a subtle shift in their approach. It’s too subtle for it to necessarily be deliberate, but for whatever its worth, it’s not entirely successful. This is because the music is less rhythm and groove oriented, and more about soundscapes floating high above the rythms, which aren’t compelling enough to command attention for a 50 plus minute running time. I’ve always thought that the main strengths of DMB musically have been Dave Matthews’ extremely rhythmic acoustic guitar playing (in fact I’ve read an interview where he said he tries to copy the drums), and Carter Beauford’s flourish-laden fluid drumming, which has been eschewed in favour of more solid snare hits and cymbal crashes. They work ok, but I miss the earlier magic.
Oh, and Mr.Matthews, you are somehow so much more creative on the acoustic guitar. Please stick to it. Electric guitar solos are fine and good, but we at thatdoesntsoundright sorely miss the acoustic guitars. It’s the BIG change here and it takes the steely sound of previous albums away. I sorely miss it. Also, despite the little lead breaks in Lying in the Hands of God, Dave Matthew’s guitar sound in general has taken a step back in mix as compared to the violin-sax ‘lead section’. Thankfully, Dave Matthews singing is still very much the same. He still sings with that inimitable craving-to-get-the-words-out sort of way, and his Hey Jude-like screaming lifts Time Bomb from the depths of averagedom to greatness.
If you ask me personally, I won’t be hankering to snag a copy of this album anytime soon. But I can imagine myself returning for the utterly addictive Shake Me like a Monkey (which imo should have been the lead single of this album) and Why I Am. I’ve always thought that a change in style should be so compelling as to bury those who naysay against it. Though it’s too early to say yet, the subtle shift, especially the electric guitars, don’t sound all that right.