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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Jakob Dylan
Seeing Things

Rating: 6.6/10 ?

June 3, 2008
Rick Rubin's expertise proved the elixir to revitalize the music of Johnny Cash (his American series) and Neil Diamond (12 Songs and Home Before Dark), but his deft production apparently doesn't have the same energizing effect on younger frontmen turned singer-songwriters. Last year, former Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson teamed up with Rubin for Free Life, his well-crafted but hardly stunning solo debut. Rubin is also behind the control board on Jakob Dylan's new album, Seeing Things, his first solo release.

There are a number of problems with Dylan's first potentially post-Wallflowers release (there's a bit of confusion, as the band is slated to play three shows over the summer, but Dylan's solo schedule has him in Seattle on the same day the band is listed to play in South Carolina), but none of them can be tied to Rubin's production. To his credit, Rubin captures Dylan's intimate, finger-picked folk so well that it often sounds like he could be playing in your living room (albeit a living room with great acoustics). Instead it is Dylan's lack of varied songwriting that makes Seeing Things as dry as a pack of saltines. The publicity hype describes the album as "raw and dynamic," but Rubin's clean handling of the tracks and Dylan's monotonous material refutes both claims.

Drawing inspiration from the likes of Robert Johnson, Neil Young, and his iconic old man, Dylan doesn't so much dispel his reputation as a gifted and articulate songwriter as he simply fails to achieve the visceral impact of his influences. His plaintive rasp is tailor-made for the album's soft, spare arrangements, but on quite a few tracks his just-rolled-out-of-bed delivery, coupled with the album's low-key sonic palette, makes for a somnolent listening experience. It is ironic that the album is being released through a deal with Starbucks [LAS feature] given that Dylan sounds like he could use a few shots of espresso.

Overall the album greatly suffers from sameness, but it does offer a couple of captivating folk gems that excel at combining simple but engaging melodies with reflective and evocative lyrics. Whether it's the agrarian metaphor that carries "Will It Grow" - "My forefathers they worked this land/ And I was schooled in the tyranny of nature's plans" - or the rich imagery of "Valley of the Low Sun" - "It's boom, boom thunder and no sleep coming/ Out mining the slippery world/ Of snow-covered beaches, junkyards of diesel/ And bombers named after girls" - Dylan knows how to turn a memorable phrase. (Is lyricism passed down genetically?) On "Valley of the Low Sun," along with the beautiful melancholy of "War Is Kind" and the deadpan "Evil Is Well," Dylan offers his musings on the zeitgeist, wisely eschewing ham-fisted political and social commentary in favor of poetic, impressionistic portraits of the world. His introspective work retains the same intriguing ambiguity as his worldview. On the album's closer, "This End of the Telescope," Dylan sings: "Years of progress digging the sand/ Companions we made didn't last/ Now lousy lovers do well with their hands/ But I'll reach you like nobody can."

It's unclear whether Dylan's foray into austere folk will mark an extended change of musical direction or just a respite from his Americana-rock roots. In delving in headfirst into the singer-songwriter genre, he has retained his poetic wit but sacrificed much of the intensity of his best Wallflowers' work. There are pleasant moments, but by any measure Seeing Things as a whole is rather bland and featureless.

Reviewed by Jason Middlekauff
No biographical information is currently available.

See other reviews by Jason Middlekauff



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