Published April 1996, The Music Paper
The soon-to-be-released (May 21) sophomore effort from The Wallflowers finds singer/songwriter/guitarist Jakob Dylan approaching an artistic level that makes comparison to his famous father almost inevitable.
A stunning, melodic, amazingly mature effort, Jakob and his band (keyboardist Rami Jaffe, drummer Mario Calire, bassist Greg Richling and guitarist Michael Ward) have defied industry odds with Bringing Down The Horse (on Interscope Records); producing a second album vastly superior to the 1992 debut disc.
"Fortunately, or unfortunately in my case," laughed Dylan during a recent phone interview, "I didn't have much success with the first album in any kind of way. I'm proud of the record, but I don't think that, realistically, there were a lot of ... uhm, avenues it could've gone down. The new record is much better.
The big, anthemic folk-pop sound, sweeping pedal steel guitar, churning Hammond B3 organ, ringing harmonies and broad, thoughtful statements that drive Bringing Down The Horse are a far cry from the low-key, inward-looking folk-rock of the band's self-titled debut on Virgin Records.
After that album went, literally, nowhere, The Wallflowers were released by Virgin and began a gradual falling apart and rebuilding process that spanned nearly three years and left only Dylan and Jaffe remaining from the original group.
"There was a period there where it seemed like we'd never get another contract," recalls the 25-year-old singer. "I spent eight or nine months trying to get a deal from somebody and had absolutely no luck. Things ... happened during that period," he adds thoughtfully, "and certain members of the band just disappeared or were let go, or something. It was a real struggle."
"We couldn't even get secretaries to come and hear us play," Dylan laughs. "We were back to playing in bars for whoever showed up and didn't have a lot going on at the time. I've heard of countless bands who've crumbled under that same scenario. It's really hard to stick it out during those ... times if you're in a group that has, at one point, already made a record."
While riding out the bad times, Dylan's songwriting skills grew sharper and more defined and he and Jaffe set about rebuilding The Wallflowers with a tougher, punchier, more unified sound in mind.
"The band was first put together as a guitar group," comments Dylan. "But, the ability to widen out the sound with the piano or, particularly, organ grew on me. I've always loved that sound (Hammond B3), and on a lot of the songs I write I have in the back of my mind a vague idea as to how Rami's keyboards will help shape the final song."
(When a brief, "Like A Rolling Stone" keyboard riff Jaffe appropriates for a few bars in the middle of "Three Marlenes" is mentioned, Dylan laughs and says, "I hadn't notice that ... I hope I don't get sued. I smell litigation coming on.")
Finally hooking up with Interscope, the reborn band set-about recording Bringing Down The Horse with producer T-Bone Burnett and an impressive array of guest artists such as: Michael Penn, Mike Campbell (Tom Petty), Adam Duritz (Counting Crows), Sam Phillips, Gary Louris (the Jayhawks) and Don Heffington (ex-Lone Justice).
"There was no one brought in to work on the album that wasn't already a part of our little circle," said Dylan. "Everyone who came in to help out by singing or playing a bit of guitar was a friend or a friend of a friend. There was nobody in the studio who was, like, a ringer. Everybody was, somehow, related to the group in some way."
"There was also no agonizing involved this time out and I didn't spend a lot of time considering where things were going with the album," said Dylan, attempting to describe the record's relaxed, flowing, homogenous sound, "we just did things as they happened. I hadn't been doing this for very long when I recorded the first record. But, now that I've got a few more years in at it," he chuckles, "I've either gained more confidence in myself, or I've developed a much better sense of tunnel-vision."
-- AL MUZER