"That ain't country in their voice / They ain't no local boys," Jakob Dylan sings in "We Don't Live Here Anymore." He could very easily being singing about himself on his new Women + Country record. Dylan's a pop star by nature, and he seems way out of his element on this collection of low-key alt-country songs.
One of the main reasons I bothered to even listen to this record was the sticker on the front boasting appearances by Neko Case and Case's harmonizing partner, Kelly Hogan. Don't take the bait, Neko Case fans. Yeah, she appears on six songs (Hogan on eight), but it's strictly in a backup role. You can barely tell it's Case singing. And given that she has one of the most recognizable voices in pop music, that's saying something.
The songs on this record are not bad. And they all sound just as you would expect a collection of T Bone Burnett-produced songs to sound: bone-dry, sparse, a little hazy. The guy pretty much wrote the book on the archetypal Americana sound -- but, in this case, that doesn't work for a singer like Jakob Dylan. Dylan's weary, melancholic delivery worked perfectly on the rock hits he made a decade ago because it provided ballast for the bright sheen those radio-ready songs had. In this dusty, laid-back, Americana setting, Dylan's just gets lost in the music.
The result is a muted, flat, and kinda boring record. The songs deserve better -- like, say, Case singing lead and Dylan doing backups. Just a thought.
Women + Country is disappointing too because you know who else is on this record? Marc Ribot, the longtime Tom Waits guitarist. Ribot's a one-of-a-kind guitarist and his unconventional playing was so instrumental on Waits' amazing Rain Dogs and Mule Variations records. Here, though, like Case, he's reined in. Why hire the guy if you're not gonna let him be Marc Ribot? Sadly, Ribot sounds most like himself on -- what else? -- a bad Waits knockoff called "Lend a Hand."
Best song: "Truth for a Truth," but, they're all pretty interchangeable.
Deja Vu: The kind of toothless popular music that NPR always seems to be spotlighting.
"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.
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