I realize that, at this point, there probably aren’t a whole lot of people clamoring for a new Wallflowers or Jakob Dylan album. I am, mind you, but I have a thing for sturdy roots-rock with layers of guitars, organ, and thoughtful singer-songwriter lyrics.
Jakob Dylan’s first solo outing, the sparse and spare Seeing Things, wasn’t a bad record. The sepia-toned music didn’t really aspire to do much, and some of the songs seemed to be more sketches than fully-realized tracks. That said, I still enjoyed it, slight though it may have been.
Dylan’s second solo record, Women and Country, avoids many of the traps and pitfalls of its predecessor. For one, the tracks are more fleshed-out, with a greater diversity of instrumentation (Seeing Things mostly featured Dylan’s voice, acoustic guitar, and the occasional upright bass or sparse percussion), a wider stylistic net, and songs that just feel more complete. Probably the best sonic comparison for this album would be Allison Krauss and Robert Plant’s duet album from a few years back, Raising Sand (an album likewise produced by T-Bone Burnett): there’s lots of pedal steel guitar, reverb-heavy guitars, subtle percussion, and the occasional hint of strings or banjo to add texture.
Dylan throws out a variety of song styles on this record. “Lend a Hand” sounds like it could be a Tom Waits song, while “Standing Eight Count” “and “Truth for a Truth” sound like they could have been Wallflowers tunes. “Smile When You Call Me That” is a straight-up old-school country song the likes of which you’d expect from George Straight or Merle Haggard. “Holy Rollers for Love” is a beautiful song made even better thanks to the fantastic backing vocals from Neko Case and Kelly Hogan.
This is the sort of solo album you like to hear: different enough from the artist’s main gig to be worth the effort to go solo, but with enough familiarity to not alienate. Women and Country is easily my favorite album of the year so far.