Dylan’s second solo LP manifests a relaxed mood and maintains it marvellously.
Mike Diver 2010-04-22
While the progeny of popular recording artists often aren’t averse to a leg-up from mom or pop when embarking on careers of their own, Jakob Dylan didn’t truly trade on his famous name until the release of 2008’s solo debut, Seeing Things. He’s written and recorded since the late 80s, but as frontman with The Wallflowers until going it alone, albeit alongside celebrated producer Rick Rubin and Will Oldham collaborator Matt Sweeney, two years ago. For his second long-player, he’s brought another big name aboard to help shape his attractive alt-country arrangements: Grammy Award winner T-Bone Burnett.
The relationship has worked before – The Wallflowers’ 1996 album, Bringing Down the Horse, spawned four successful singles – and the results here are pleasing. There’s nothing hurried about Women + Country, as it shifts its weight with a gentle grace that, to some ears, could seem rather formulaic across a full 11 tracks. But anyone wanting a record of pretty songs touching upon a variety of topics – beyond the standard themes of love and loss, want and regret – will undoubtedly enjoy a collection that doesn’t stretch itself beyond a creative comfort zone that so clearly works well for all involved.
Guest vocalists Neko Case and Kelly Hogan are oddly underused throughout, but their backing coos lend texture to several songs that, otherwise, might have come across as rather flat – even with Burnett’s trademark gloss liberally applied. Pedal steel colours the scratchy strum of They’ve Trapped Us Boys, but here a little more from Hogan could have really enabled the song to shine. Better is Down On Our Own Shields, where the female contributors carry greater emotional weight in their parallel lyricism, the contrast between their sweet highs and Dylan’s world-weary, near-spoken word style strikingly vivid.
Diversions from the traditional template of banjo-, pedal steel- and fiddle-flecked alt-country linger the longest in the memory (not that there’s anything wrong with the more straightforward offerings – they simply have a tendency to bleed into each other). Lend a Hand is a great, Tom Waits-recalling trumpet-and-trombone waltz, its lyric of getting heartily stuck into work countered marvellously by lazy horns and lolloping percussion. Everybody’s Hurting also features brass, and finds Case and Hogan in fine fettle – it, too, is a highlight.
But Country + Women isn’t presented as a record of stand-out moments. Rather, it’s an inverted-commas proper long-player, which manifests a relaxed mood and maintains it marvellously.