It’s good to be Dave Matthews.
He fronts what has become the mostly consistently popular and profitable touring act of the past five years, manages the successful ATO record label (home to David Gray, among others), and recently joined a select club of rock royalty that includes Elton John and Simon and Garfunkel by performing on the Great Lawn in Central Park.
So why does he seem so damn sad?
On his first ever true solo album Some Devil, Matthews explores some pretty heavy notions of death and mortality — a far cry from the usual festive, life-affirming, “Duuuuude — I can’t believe you just chugged three beers! Awesome!” ideas usually associated with his music.
So does the “New Dave” work? Yes and no. Love him or hate him, it is hard to deny that Matthews is a pretty talented songwriter. As a result, any music he makes has at least something going for it. Then again, this is the man who penned the album’s “Gravedigger,” the most jaw-droppingly awful song in recent memory.
Overall, it becomes very evident in the solo context how much Matthews’ songs gain from the amazingly talented band that has grown with him from the beginning.
While Matthews has enlisted the help of Brady Blade and Tony Hall (who make up the fine rhythm section of Emmylou Harris’ backing band) for Some Devil, one can’t help but wish the album had the sparks that fly from Band members Carter Beauford and Stefan Lessard. Not to mention the absence of the group’s instantly recognizable sax and violin melodies.
But Matthews’ excellent songwriting does shine through in songs like the hauntingly beautiful “So Damn Lucky,” which features some great guitar and piano work by Phish’s Trey Anastasio, and the slow-jam, gospel rocker “Save Me.” One of the album’s most surprising highlights comes in the form of its title track, which features only Matthew’s voice and simple accompaniment from an electric guitar.
Some Devil is definitely worth checking out for those who enjoy Matthews’ more obviously collaborative work — the songs and the voice are there. But for the rest of the listening population, it’s more of a risky bet — some may enjoy the more mellowed, subdued feel of the record. Others, no doubt, may find it grating.
But what’s life without risks, right? Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go update my insurance policy.