Review Summary: Jakob Dylan finds his voice once again, even if it sounds a lot like his father.
Jakob Dylan has always had a career that existed under the radar. Bringing Down The Horse, the Wallflowers' most successful album sold millions of copies, but cast a cloud over everything he would do after. The Wallflowers followed that watershed with (Breach), not only Dylan's artistic triumph, but also one of the handful of best rock albums of the decade. The Wallflowers would put out two more albums afterward, neither making a dent in the legacy Bringing Down The Horse had cemented.
Rather than spend his entire career failing to live up to the sales of his breakthrough, Dylan shifted focus, releasing a solo album of acoustic folk music not unlike what his famous father made his name on. The album was sparse, showed Dylan in a different light, but failed to ignite the spark his best Wallflowers songs had so easily kindled. The bare instrumentation letting Dylan's shortcomings as a vocalist take the forefront.
Women and Country rectifies the problems Dylan had in his first solo outings, strengthening his sound, and coming across as the best album he has recorded since (Breach). This music is still folk-drenched Americana, but it is more lived in, more expansive than the self-contained pastiche that was Seeing Things. Working with T-Bone Burnett, Dylan has established himself as a songwriter worthy of consideration in the same breath as his father.
After "Nothing But The Whole Wide World" opens the album in the same vein as his previous outing, "Down On Our Own Shield" shows the true promise of what is to come. A somber outing, the song buries slide guitar under the macabre bass-line, the low end doing the heavy lifting. Dylan's melodies, some borrowed from his past work, are far more effective sitting in the wider mix of the instrumentation. Having a band behind him gives Dylan an identity, allowing the one dimension of his vocal to enhance the downtrodden landscape.
This is a dark record, one that shows almost no trace of his past leading a rock band. The only place he lets his guard down is the album's highlight, "Truth For A Truth", a morose song that can't escape it's roots. It is a dark reading on what could easily have been a Wallflowers song had the amps been cranked. The other songs, the ones that feel as worn out as the dust they conjure in the mind, are every bit as good. "Lend A Hand" stomps on its simple drum beat, "Holy Rollers For Love" lilts as it tries to pick the pace up, and "Standing Eight Count" gives a dramatic end to the album.
Jakob Dylan is older now, no longer the young man who led the Wallflowers to the top of the charts, but that age has allowed his songs to finally live up to the emotion they carried. His songs were always melancholy, and his voice can now deliver the earnest feeling they deserve, while his band can prod the depths to wrench the most of his compositions. Women and Country is a far better record than Seeing Things, better than the majority of the Wallflowers work, and while still fighting to catch up to the genius of (Breach), it is a fitting challenger to the album that started the whole thing.