Refocusing On Roots Rock
Following Jakob Dylan’s folk solo records, Seeing Things and Women + Country, his first Wallflowers album in nearly a decade, Exit Wounds (9 July 2021; New West Records), sees him focusing once more on roots rock.
Lyrically Dylan seeks to strike a balance between the difficult times of the pandemic and the prospect of change and hope. “I was writing during a time when the world felt like it was falling apart,” he says. “That changes the way you address even the simplest things, because you have panic in your mind all the time. You have anxiety. And you also have hope. And it’s all in there.”
“Exit wounds are transitions,” he continues. “It's not meant to be something that's overly dramatic or painful. It's just...every transition you go through, whichever direction that is […] you're going to bring along exit wounds. So it's about transformation, really, [and] it certainly applies right now.”
Dylan’s band has been through a number of transformations in itself, but has always highlighted the guitar and, to a lesser extent, keyboards. Dylan has called on his friend Butch Walker (Pink, Avril Lavigne and Katy Perry) to both produce and help him ‘assemble like-minded musicians’. These include guitarist Val McCallum, bassist Whynot Jensveld, drummer Mark Stepro, keyboardist Aaron Embry and – notably – country singer Shelby Lynne, who shares lead vocals with Dylan on the ballad Darlin’ Hold On. “I’m not gone, Hold on, I am always where you are,” goes the hopeful lyric, as the two solitary voices seek comfort in each other.
In one interview Dylan explained that Lynne was at first asked only to sing on that song, but that it felt natural to ask her to add backing vocals to several others, including Who’s That Man Walking ‘Round My Garden, which is about a man entering his front door - only to find another exiting the back.
Roots And Wings, the first single, is a strong contender for the album’s standout track, as it has a great hook, as well as touches of his famous father’s Idiot Wind, in terms of its lyrical bitterness. “I showed you how to swing, Yeah, I showed you how to strut, That’s my mojo you’re using, That’s my wine getting you drunk […] You’re a mule among horses, I took you, when God stood you up,” he sings, accompanied by a Gibson ES 330, on a ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ performance.
More despair, wrath and fury emerge in songs like Maybe Your Heart’s Not In It No More; I Hear the Ocean (When I Wanna Hear Trains); Wrong End of the Spear; The Dive Bar In My Heart; and The Daylight Between Us – on which Dylan sings ‘I want her back more than she’d guess, But mostly I just want to get wasted’ - whereas Move the River and I’ll Let You Down (But Will Not Give You Up) suggest a man willing to rail against seemingly overwhelming forces.
Jakob Dylan’s Americana has in the past been compared to Tom Petty, and this more gentle roots-oriented style is evident again in his latest offering. The music Dylan has been producing from his Los Angeles base has matured into something that might now be described as ‘classic rock’; something that is reinforced by the fact that The Wallflowers have now been going, incredibly, for well over thirty years.