Women and Country / Jakob Dylan
Stepping Out of the Shadow
review by Will Brennan
It’s tough to be Jakob Dylan. For listeners, it’s hard to hear Jakob without comparisons or expectations. Such is the life of being a Dylan, though there are certainly worse things to be. The same has applied to Bob himself – after the white hot blaze of his early career, ending with the motorcycle accident, in his subsequent records, he was constantly trying to not be eclipsed by his own towering shadow. Jakob Dylan trod a hard road of independence, refusing to speak about his famous father in interviews for years, throughout a good portion of his Wallflowers days. To his credit, Jakob Dylan crafted a number of durable hits with that band – “One Headlight,” “6Th Avenue Heartache,” “Three Marlenas,” and they did a credible version of Bowie’s “Heroes.” A new generation of younger fans listened to his often poetic lyrics with a proper degree of respect, not caring much about who his father was.
In his newest recording, Women and Country, Dylan crafts another durable set of songs that, if his name was different, might garner him a temporary “new Dylan” label. The songs have lyrics that probe the bigger issues – life, death, love, poverty, injustice. This is a stronger partner to his last album, the Rick Rubin produced “Seeing Things.” He enlisted Grammy winner and musical archivist T-Bone Burnett to take over the mantle this time. There’s a whole band here supporting Dylan, including the rhythm section used in Robert Plant and Allison Krauss’ hit album, Raising Sand. The sound throughout is often eerie and haunted, like soft wind coming across a Texas flatland at dusk.
“Nothing But the Whole Wide World,” the radio single, is a solid, almost childlike song with catchy repetition, where Dylan sings about things that endure and matter, and those that don’t. He’s not beyond borrowing a bit, like his father does, and on “Holly Roller for Love can hear echoes of both Paul Simon’s “Slip Sliding Away” and Jackson Brown’s “The Pretender.” “Smile When You Call Me That” is a durable song that it begs to be covered by a mainstream country singer.
Dylan’s enlisted singers Neko Case and Kelly Hogan to be his background singers, and they provide sweet ooo’s and lala’s and harmony on choruses. Which is fine, their voices work perfectly, but country belters like Case and Hogan could have been showcased more, brought out front, allowed a duet or two.
Women and Country is the work of mature singer/songwriter who’s reached his stride, exhibits his unmistakable voice. It stands solidly on its own as roots/country/Americana record. If it was done by anybody else, the overall accolades would ring much louder. Such is the nature of the shadow over there on the other side of the road, the one that Jakob Dylan has stepped away from with Women and Country.