Exit Wounds LP
(New West Records)
Who wouldn’t love to be Jakob Dylan? Since first appearing with The Wallflowers in 1992, Dylan has kept a “when I feel like it” mentality about his schedule of new releases (seven albums in twenty years – with nearly decade-long breaks along the way – is the definition of “when I feel like it”) and gotten away with it because he happens to be a really good songwriter who has yet to include a genuinely bad release in his catalogue and because, let’s be honest, he’s the son of the artist who cast the template for enduring songwriting brilliance in the twentieth century (and he has also taken lengthy breaks, in his career). Now on a new label (why he changed is a mystery), Dylan has brought The Wallflowers out of mothballs (say what you want – when you haven’t released new music in nine years, you are dusting off some naphthalene, some dichlorobenzene or both) and done precisely what The Wallflowers have done well for thirty years: made another document which combines roots, folk, country and pop.
Any possible uncertainty about the quality of the songs on Exit Wounds evaporates as soon as stylus settles into groove and “Maybe Your Heart’s Not In It No More” opens the album’s A-side. There, Jakob Dylan’s penchant for expressing disappointment at diminished returns (which he’s been doing since the making of Bringing Down The Horse) is on display and performed with heartwarming perfection as lines like, “It’s gone quiet – it’s gone cold/ Actin’ like someone’s you don’t know/ Used to rumble – used to roar/ Whatever was doin’ , it didn’t before – And maybe your heart’s not in it no more” reach out to longtime fans and the backing provided by the band gives it the sense of a warm return.
This both is and is not what we’ve come to expect from The Wallflowers. It is charming and sweet – but it also feels a bit like it has something to prove; it feels like the band is trying to illustrate that, yes, they are capable of being as good as you heard or as good as you remember. In effect, their hearts are most definitely in it.
The hits keep coming after “Maybe Your Heart’s Not In It…” as, after an over-treated guitar part casts the song’s rhythm into question, “Roots and Wings” pulls up at the last minute and coasts beautifully among images of worry and “big city drugs” into the pleasure centers of listeners’ brains, “I Hear The Ocean” rolls along smoothly and soulfully, “The Dive Bar in My Heart” crossbreeds cast-off David Bowie sonics with a vision lifted right out of Tom Waits’ songbook and then “Darlin’ Hold On” sees Shelby Lynne split vocal duties with Dylan for a journey which is as lugubrious as it is loverly. When the needle lifts after that, listeners may discover to their surprise that they’re upset the record’s progression has been interrupted; without realizing it, The Wallflowers cast an incredibly strong spell over listeners and, when it is broken, listeners may find that they’re disappointed the play was so short. They’ll get more on the B-side, of course, but ending at “Darlin’ Hold On” illustrates what a premium there is on the running, now.
The unusual, almost ska rhythm which powers “Move The Rive” (the cut which opens the album’s B-side) does threaten to rupture the potent, hypnotic state developed by the A-side of Exit Wounds (and the cut which follows it, “I’ll Not Give You Up” sounds good in a ‘wedding’s first dance’ kind of way – but that does little to inspire excitement in the running), but the side finally finds a great rhythm late in the running with “Who’s That Man Walking ‘Round My Garden”. There (like his father before him), Jakob Dylan finally embraces the rock that has been in him all his life, forgets to posture and just rocks out, and it works – there’s a solid, sultry slink about the sound here which could easily find a home on AOR radio right before The Stones and Limblifter, and those who have been waiting so hard for something even sort of comparable to this will embrace it warmly; “Who’s That Man…” is easy to love.
After “Who’s That Man…”does its part to inspire belief in listeners, The Wallflowers take one last crack at their romantic strong suit with “The Daylight Between Us”(which makes so much of the romance in The Wallflowers’ heart that it sounds like it could have appeared on Bringing Down The Horse) before the needle lifts from the album and listeners are left to sort out how they feel about it. Of course, including a thought like that (“how they feel about it”) illustrates conclusively that Exit Wounds is not an instant gratifier, but a couple of successive trips through this album’s running prove that it can indeed win fans (although maybe not new ones) and get them to come along with the band again. Is that the most glowing endorsement of Exit Wounds that we could offer? Of course not – but after a few decades at it, The Wallflowers are established; they have a base and that’s precisely the group the band is playing to, with this album. [Bill Adams]
Exit Wounds is out now. Buy it here, directly from New West Records.