Dave Matthews Band: Away from the World
Dave Matthews has always been the biggest question mark in his own band. Dave Matthews Band have one of the most rabid, loyal fan bases in popular music,but those who hate them really hate them, and most of that ill will is directed toward the frontman’s peculiar vocal delivery and drunken poetry.
Matthews’ style is certainly an acquired taste, and his band’s seven studio albums have run the gamut from boldly original (1994’s Under the Table and Dreaming_, 2009’s triumphant return-to-form, Big Whiskey & The GrooGrux King ) to mind-blowingly bland (their streamlined 2001 pop grab-ass, Everyday ). The intermittently brilliant Away from the World falls somewhere between those two poles, with a few depressing duds offset by some of the band’s most adventurous, free-spirited music since the late ‚Äė90s.
There’s a reason that even the band’s sloppiest live recordings tend to dwarf their studio counterparts. It’s the global jazz-fusion gusto of the players – that unmistakable blend of Carter Beauford’s jawdropping beats, Boyd Tinsley’s sizzling fiddle, Stefan Lessard’s deft basslines (and, before his tragic death, Leroi Moore’s magic-touch woodwinds). The further out DMB stretch, the more they sound like an actual band, and the better the results. “Broken Things” sets an intimidating precedent, built on a fidgety acoustic Matthews riff and transformed into an epic by Tinsley’s sawing lines and Jeff Coffin’s menacing sax. “The Riff” is, fittingly, based around Matthews’ bluesy acoustic guitar figure, but the group’s criss-crossing melodic interplay defines it. There’s a healthy amount of experimentation, too: “Rooftop” ascends a jazz-fusion spiral-staircase, culminating with Tim Reynolds’ spacey guitar solo. “Drunken Solider” moves from gorgeous acoustic fingerpicking to Rashawn Ross’ bold, mariachi styled horns.
When the band’s contributions are minimized, leaving glorified Matthews solo tunes, the quality dwindles. Lyrically, Matthews avoids his horny barfly schtick in favor of starry-eyed hippie idealism, peppering the album with vacant pseudo-political fluff. ( “We gotta do much more than believe if we wanna see the world change,” he sings on the otherwise excellent “Gaucho.” ) Meanwhile, there’s little musicality found on the lead single “Mercy” or the offkey, ukelele-by-numbers ballad “Sweet.”
Thankfully, the lukewarm filler on Away from the World is outweighed by a lot of mesmerizing musicianship – not to mention some of the band’s finest songs in more than a decade. At their best, DMB remain a genre of one.