October 2, 2003

Dave Matthews: Devil Dave Works Alone

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For just the time being, he’s dropped the band. But as Dave Matthews shows us in his graceful new solo effort Some Devil, he doesn’t always need them. The songs on the album display confidence and represent a smooth balance between the relaxing and the exhilarating. The intricate lyrics allow Matthews to use his voice as an instrument all by itself, such as in the song “An’ Another Thing,” creating a satisfying end result that is both meditative and inspiring. The thoughtful nature of the collection creates what might be described as a mix between Before These Crowded Streets, with its dark nuances and unique musical complexity, and Busted Stuff, with its excellent imagery and peaceful tone.

The best song on the album is its first track, “Dodo,” a tune unlike any other Matthews has ever created. With an increasingly elaborate refrain, the rhapsodic lyrics are well accompanied by the superb Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The image of the last remaining Dodo bird is expertly captured and adds to this powerful opener for the album, which is followed by the musically complex yet brilliant “So Damn Lucky.” Here, Matthews uses a car crash as a metaphor to remind us of his theme from “Two Step” — that things in life change very quickly and that people should more often slow down and enjoy life. After all, it’s “amazing what a minute can do.”

The exceptional first single of the album, “Gravedigger,” is classic in the sense of Matthews’s song structure in that it effortlessly oscillates between fast and slow rhythms. The cycle of life and death takes the focus of the lyrics, as Matthews pleads to be buried in a shallow grave so that he can feel the rain. The best part of the song, though, is the collaborative effort between Matthews (on acoustic guitar) and friends Tony Hall (on the bass), Tim Reynolds and Trey Anastasio (both on electric guitars).

The album then begins to slow down considerably, as “Some Devil,” “Trouble,” and “Grey Blue Eyes” are each a bit depressing and highly introspective. These songs personify some apparent inner anguish, but despite Matthews’s impressive vocal range on “Some Devil” and Anastasio’s clever rock guitar riffs in “Grey Blue Eyes,” the strength of the album clearly lies elsewhere. Of the remaining tracks, the most impressive are “Save Me,” with its classic rock opening, great backup vocals, and religious imagery; “Stay or Leave,” with impressive vocal percussion by Matthews and genuine poignancy; “Oh,” which describes tangible memories for a lost loved one and which illustrates the charming simplicity of life; and “Up and Away,” with its reggae influence and jovial tone. The lingering conclusion of the album, entitled “Too High,” is chilling and haunting, as the full SeattleMusic Group orchestra is finally let loose despite being teased throughout the album.

With Some Devil, Matthews experiments with new techniques and is delightfully successful. The songs are refreshing and suave, and while in some cases a bit melancholy, the lyrics are written with precision and flair that creates a natural feeling only characteristic of Dave Matthews.

Archived article by Avash Kalra