As I’ve mentioned in my last few posts (my playlist on ‘Flying,’ and the Pretenders new single), I stepped away from B&V for a small vacation and a bunch of new music came out. The Dave Matthews Band released their 10th album (Dave’s 11th if you include his solo LP Some Devil), entitled Walk Around The Moon. The album was preceded by the first single, “Madman’s Eyes,” our review of which can be found (here). It’s the DMB’s first new album in five years.
I’ve been a fan of the Dave Matthews Band for a long time, since their first album Under The Table And Dreaming. We were all DMB fans in the 90s – from your local soccer mom to my late friend Alf, who was strictly an old school Hip Hop guy. That universal love of the DMB made it hard to get tickets to their concerts… everybody and their mother wanted to go. I did get to take the Rock Chick to see them back then. Everyone I knew owned not only that debut but their second album, Crash. Crash was almost as highly anticipated as Pearl Jam’s Vs. I can remember Alf singing the first single from that LP, “Too Much,” at the top of his lungs in bars around that time… he would sing the lyric “Suck it up, suck it up” to great, if not vulgar, comic effect… but I’m getting off topic. Those early albums – all of the first three LPs (which includes Before These Crowded Streets) – were ubiquitous. The DMB had a jam band ethos, a weird line-up and a dark streak that was completely masked by the utter exuberance they played with.
When I say they had a weird line-up I just mean they weren’t the traditional two guitars, bass and drums. The original line-up was Dave (acoustic guitar/vocals), Carter Beauford (drums), Stefan Lessard (on the biggest bass guitar I’d ever seen), Boyd Tinsley (violin) and LeRoi Moore (saxophones). Things have been tough for the DMB. They tragically lost LeRoi in an ATV accident. They replaced him with two horn players, Jeff Coffin and Rashawn Ross. I’ve always thought that was the ultimate compliment to a player who is lost or leaves a band, being replaced by not one but two guys. Like when they booted Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac, they brought in Neil Finn (to replace him on vocals) AND Mike Campbell (to replace him on guitar). Around that time, longtime associate, guitarist Tim Reynolds officially joined the band. Ten years after Moore’s loss they had to dismiss Boyd Tinsley over some sexual harassment thing. Tough stuff. Eventually to replace Tinsley they brought in keyboard player Buddy Strong which does change their fundamental sound. The violin was all over that early music.
The DMB’s music has sort of struggled in a similar way over the years. They put out those three great first albums but then stumbled badly with the Glen Ballard produced Everyday. Even my buddy Alf got off the bandwagon on that one… he was heartbroken. I read one review that said the album sounded like it was produced by someone who had never heard the Dave Matthews Band. They came roaring back with Busted Stuff, an album I still adore. But then it was another stumble with Stand Up, perhaps my least favorite DMB album. It was like Matthews was confused as to where to take the band… next. I gave up on the band after Stand Up. As usual, I shouldn’t have done that.
It was after that they lost Moore and it seemed to bring them out of their creative confusion. They kicked out three really strong albums in a row: Big Whiskey And the GrooGrux King (a tribute of sorts to Moore), Away From The World, and finally Come Tomorrow. I went back and listened to Come Tomorrow while preparing this post, which I reviewed at the time it came out, and it’s really strong. If anything I should have been more effusive in my praise of that album. For the DMB to wait 5 years since that album – and let’s remember there was a six year gap between it and Away From The World – is a bit of a gamble. I mean, Metallica waits 6 or 7 years between albums, as they did prior to their sensational new album 72 Seasons, but they’re metal and metal fans are pretty loyal. I was excited to see the DMB had a new album out, but I kept my expectations in check. I know DMB is still a live juggernaut, but does anybody still care about their studio albums… two records in 11 years would suggest… maybe not? Their last platinum album was Big Whiskey.
I realize, like a lot of recent albums, Walk Around The Moon was written during the pandemic/lockdown. When I get into a band I’m typically all in for the whole catalog and I hate writing negative reviews – there’s enough negativity in the world – but this album is a disappointing bummer. And I like sad music – Hell, I’m a Neil Young fan. The album starts with the low key title track. It starts with strumming and Dave’s now weathered falsetto until the band kicks in. I will say Carter Beauford is a great, underrated drummer. I like this song but it’s more of an album track than anything I’ll return to. “Madman’s Eyes” I’ve reviewed before and I stand by that review – it’s one of the better tracks here. From there it’s back to low key ballad “Looking For A Vein.” Not a bad song but I was looking for something punchier to follow-up “Madman’s Eyes.” I mentioned that early DMB had a dark streak covered by their sheer exuberance and joy. These days it’s an exuberant streak covered by darkness. They come back with another ballad on “The Ocean And The Butterfly.” I’ll admit I like the horn work on that track.
“It Could Happen” is paint by numbers DMB. Then it’s another sad ballad with “Something To Tell My Baby.” Who knew the DMB as going to build their late career around the latter parts of Crash (and I mean “Lie In Our Graves” not “Tripping Billies”). “After Everything” brings a pulse back to the album. I hear the keyboards in this song more than most of the tunes here. There’s some electric guitar. Then the horns take over and it sounds for a moment like a marching band playing the half time show at the local high school. It’s an upbeat song but it just misses the mark for me. We come back down with the sad, coffee house strummer “All You Wanted Was Tomorrow.” Then back up for “Only You.” It’s got more electric guitar, a nice riff, if not an unexpected one. Again, I appreciate the noise but it just doesn’t grab me the way say, “Too Much” did. It does soar a bit in the middle. By “Break Free” and “Monsters,” I found my interest waning. “Monsters” does manage to be atmospheric. The album ends on another acoustic track, “Singing From the Windows.”
With albums only coming out every half a decade or so, one has to wonder how much Dave and the Band care about the studio stuff? I know they’re still a juggernaut on the road. The money is in the merch as they say. With their albums selling less and less each outing, one has to wonder – does anybody care about this band any more? They were so big in the 90s and at the turn of the millennium. I guess we can hope in another 5 or 6 years they recover from this misstep the same way they did after Stand Up. Sorry Dave, this is a hard pass for B&V.