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Dave Matthews at 50: A ‘Some Devil’ Appreciation

by Rob Slater on January 10, 2017

This week, we're celebrating fifty years of Dave Matthews and do so today by highlighting his unique, compelling solo debut Some Devil, released in 2003. Read below and also check out our 2013 cover story with the band posted in full yesterday.

Let's set the scene: It's October 2002 and Dave Matthews is sitting at home after yet another long stretch of dates with the band that bears his name. In a couple of months, DMB will embark on a brief December tour that will culminate with arguably their most famous show ever, a night at Madison Square Garden that finds them sharing the stage with the legendary James Brown.

But Matthews' head, one could argue, was certainly elsewhere.

The early 2000's rank as one of the most riveting and confusing times for Dave Matthews Band. Fresh off the massive, stadium-packing success of 2001's Everyday, DMB was entering into the second phase of their career. Gone were the darlings of the 90s who churned out now-classic records like Under the Table, Crash and Before These Crowded Streets. A messy divorce from longtime producer Steve Lillywhite and an uninspired money-grab effort in Everyday gave them warts and scars within themselves and their fanbase, who still seemingly grew exponentially by the minute, at least enough to pack Giants Stadium for three nights in 2000 and 2001.

2002 was, for all intents and purposes, a much-needed return to normalcy. DMB ditched the stadiums for arenas and amphitheatres, focusing their approach around an album pieced together from the remnants of The Lillywhite Sessions, a leaked album that some may deem the band's best studio recording in their entire career. Appropriately dubbed Busted Stuff, the 2002 album tour cycle found the group arguably at their jammiest and jazziest, chugging through extended versions of tunes like "Seek Up," "Bartender" and "Lie in Our Graves," with the combination of keyboardist Butch Taylor and founding sax player LeRoi Moore hitting its stride. 2002 is remembered fondly, at least musically speaking, but the scars within the fabric of the group was certainly there after a tumultuous period.

Addressing the emotions within the band wouldn't happen just yet. Instead, Matthews retreated to the studio in the fall of 2002 by himself for some musical therapy, only bringing along a few song ideas that he later claimed "didn't have a place in the band" but would serve as the beginnings for his debut solo record, and one of his most unique studio recordings, Some Devil.

Along the way, Matthews invited longtime collaborator Tim Reynolds into the studio with producer Steve Harris (who helmed DMB's ) and then compiled a band of friends--first Trey Anastasio then Brady Blade and Tony Hall to bolster the rhythm section. And so, Matthews had a new band (at least temporarily) and a fresh, new batch of songs to embark on a rather therapeutic recording session that would span the rest of 2002 and about half of 2003 before its September 23 release, just a day before DMB played to roughly 90,000 people in Central Park.

Now that the scene is set, this appreciation for Matthews' lone solo effort (it's been long rumored he owes one more before all is said and done) lies in the intricacies and daring nature of the music. Some Devil is not simply Matthews alone with a guitar playing songs he'd rather not record with DMB, it's him reigniting his creativity and songwriting chops that spent the better part of three years drying up after the fruitful first decade of the Dave Matthews Band. Now, sure, there are glimpses of Matthews leaning on his bread and butter--lovey odes like "Up And Away," "Stay or Leave" (which DMB later adopted in 2009) and a nod to his late grandfather with the heartfelt "Oh." Let's not forget "Baby," although arguably the record's cheesiest offering.

But what happens in some of those other tracks ("Dodo," "Trouble," "Too High") is unlike anything heard from Matthews since 1998's Before These Crowded Streets. Vulnerable, confused and essentially stripped down to nothing. The band, as impressive as the songwriting, accent the words in such a way that make Some Devil an essential fall record. You could almost see Matthews writing some of these songs, "Trouble" and such, while staring out at the dreary Seattle winter.

Then you have numbers like the record's centerpiece, "Too High," a brooding, final release of aggression that closes the album, providing a rare foray into orchestral progressive rock, a far cry from DMB's acoustic-driven arrangements. Songs all different in feel and texture, but all holding true to the form of allowing Matthews' songwriting to take center stage. The music simply paints the picture around the lyrics, and does so masterfully.

Some Devil continues to reinvent and reveal itself as one of the most interesting records from Matthews. Over the years, songs like "Gravedigger," "So Damn Lucky," "Stay or Leave" and "Save Me" have all entered the DMB rotation since Tim Reynolds joined the band but those pale in comparison to what was captured during those dark days of 2002. Listen to the record below.

Tags: dave matthews, dave matthews band

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