John Metzger's #16 album for 2008
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2008, Volume 15, #8
Written by John Metzger
Thu August 21, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Now that The Wallflowers has run its course and Six Degrees, the television show for which he was hired to provide music, has been forgotten, Jakob Dylan can get back to work revitalizing a career that has begun to grow somewhat stale. Rebel Sweetheart, The Wallflowers’ final hurrah, certainly was a solid endeavor, but viewed in hindsight, it sounds exactly like what it was: a last ditch effort for the band to pull together and rediscover the magic that once made it tick. At the same time, however, it failed in its gambit not only to recreate the buzz of The Wallflowers’ sophomore set Bringing Down the Horse but also to recapture the poetic gracefulness of its third outing Breach.
Three years later, Dylan has returned to the spotlight, but this time, he’s backed by a mere handful of accompanists who largely remain in the background. It is something of an understatement to refer to his solo debut Seeing Things as a stripped-down set of material. Under the guidance of veteran producer Rick Rubin, the collection clearly is aimed at silencing Dylan’s critics more than it is at attracting new fans. Longtime followers of The Wallflowers undoubtedly will recognize some of the melodic twists and vocal inflections that he utilizes throughout the collection, but for the most part, his acoustic ruminations are drawn from an altogether different script.
Considering that he is the son of the all-mighty Bob Dylan, it’s safe to say that Jakob Dylan has been forced to shoulder a greater burden than most burgeoning songwriters. With The Wallflowers, he pointedly poked fun at this notion in concert by covering The Weight, a seminal tune from the annals of rock history that was penned by his father’s former sidekick Robbie Robertson. While it’s true that Jakob Dylan has received more respect than one might reasonably assume, especially given the way in which the offspring of the rich and famous frequently are treated, his output simultaneously has been met with unfair expectations and comparisons. To his credit, although he sometimes has sidestepped them, he also steadfastly has refused to dodge them. With Seeing Things, Dylan boldly flips a middle finger into the air at those who would dare to complain that he isn’t in the same league as his father.
Once again, Dylan doesn’t run away from his dad’s legacy. Instead, he — like Bruce Springsteen before him — embraces the same obsessions that drove the elder Dylan to leave Minnesota behind in order to sit by Woody Guthrie’s hospital bedside. Seeing Things is not Nebraska, but its subdued, folk-blues architecture does lend it the same sort of old-time charm that seems to have been straight from Guthrie’s dust bowl days. There also are hints of the Grateful Dead’s early ’70s, workingman’s blues lurking inside All Day and All Night, while wisps of Bruce Cockburn’s elegantly soulful style flit through Will It Grow. On Breach, Dylan had mined similar terrain, but for the first time in his career, he has managed to move completely past his inspirations and find his own voice.
American aggression and the war in Iraq are the forces that seem to lie behind Dylan’s newfound confidence. Throughout Seeing Things, he ponders how the repercussions of recent events have impacted not only the men and women who are fighting abroad, but also the population that has stayed at home. He can’t resist taking a few swipes at those in power — "We bow down and worship these bandits and cowboys, unable to hold their own guns," he declares on Valley of the Low Sun — but for the most part, he deftly manages to remain obvious with his intentions without wielding his stick like an oversized club. Although he has woven a handful of love songs into his storyline, they, too, are built from dirt, sweat, and blood, and even here, the political implications that weigh quite heavily upon the globe are never far from reach.
Near the conclusion to Seeing Things, Dylan offers some hope for the future. Set against a backdrop of twinkling guitars, he uses On Up the Mountain — the verses to which bear a striking resemblance to The Who’s The Kids Are Alright — to tell of a bright light that shines in a new generation, while the weariness of his personal reflections in This End of the Telescope promises perseverance in the face of adversity. "I’ll reach you like nobody can," Dylan sings during the latter cut, and he’s right. Although Seeing Things initially appears to provide nothing more than a relaxed and unassuming journey across gentle terrain, Dylan’s wisely crafted, heartfelt sentiments ultimately are proven to be unavoidably moving.
51st Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Producer of the Year, Non-Classical
Of Further Interest...
Seeing Things is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box