Eighteen years after they released ‘Under The Table And Dreaming,’ Dave Matthews Band dropped their eighth studio album, ‘Away From The World.’ The band teamed up again with producer Steve Lillywhite to put out the eleven song album; an album the seamlessly blends old and new, and is rife with midlife musings. With its release, ‘Away From The World’ topped the ‘Billboard 200’ chart, making DMB the first group to have six straight studio albums at the top of the charts.
The album itself brings funk, jazzy New Orleans style R&B, some jaw-dropping rock riffs, and the sweet acoustics the band is known for. The title comes from a line in the song “The Riff,” “Sitting in a box away from the world out there,” and as Matthews has noted – and as is evidenced by the album’s cover art – there is a sense of coming into and going out of the world alone, a sense that one’s body being a box, this vessel that brings us in and out of life. The band is certainly known at times to bring forth songs that touch upon the philosophical. This album, in particular, also gives an open nod to politics, sex, love, and apathy.
“Mercy,” the first single off the album is a simple and inspiring plea to not give up in a world full of strife, and perhaps the answer to some current problems is to universally offer up a bit more love. “All the world is just as we have made it/ And until we’ve got a new world/ I gotta say love is not a whisper or a weakness/ No, love is strong.”
Dave Matthews Band’s Mercy
“Gaucho” is a track that presents more of a political charge with a chant backed by the Youth Co-Op choir intoning, “We gotta do much more than believe if we really wanna change things.” Instrumentally, “Gaucho” also packs a punch. Percussion and bass holds the song together, while frenzied horns from Rashawn Ross and Jeff Coffin and Boyd Tinsley’s violin bring a sense of urgency, but it is Tim Reynolds on electric guitar who propels this track with riffs that seem to bring with them both darkness and light.
Not surprisingly, perhaps the sweetest track on the album is indeed, “Sweet.” The majority of the song is Matthews strumming a ukulele, crooning in falsetto a song that was initially born out of his son learning how to swim. “Sweet” broaches life’s triumphs and challenges, and the listener gets the sense that this is a band that is seeing things not from infancy anymore, but rather midlife: “I’m too high to wanna come down/ And I’m too old to wanna be younger now.” The band joins in at the 2:55 marker with a funky and laid back bass line from Stefan Lessard, which rounds out the number with a little twist not expected at the onset of the song.
The album progresses with the delightful little love song, “Belly Full,” into the funky groove “If Only,” which begs a lost love to come back. There’s no denying the catchy chorus on this number, “I am just a fool, baby/ Playing Mr. Cool, baby/ Rollin’ round like I got nothing much to lose/ But I know you and you know me/ And I know you could see/ So help me get my way back to you/ Back to you.” Carter Beauford again shines with the perfect amount of drums and cymbal percussion holding the beat down as Matthews’ vocals beg for second chance.
‘Away From The World’ wraps up with the 9:46 track “Drunken Soldier.” And other than incoherent mutterings and distant vocals, this song is a full-on jam fest for the first 3 minutes. Matthews’ gravelly voice is quiet to start, but then it catches up with the instrumentation, which is bold and full of promise. This is a song to hear live, with the band all screaming vocals and instruments under an awe-inspiring light show. There is such a crafty juxtaposition from hard rock to smooth jazz that it is almost hard to imagine this as just one song. Almost.
But it’s the “almost” that Dave Matthews Band does so well. They bring out old rhythms that just inherently work and mix and master them with new musical fusions that almost make the band sound completely new. Almost. The band is still a crowd favorite after touring together for twenty-one years and whether they’re pulling out those old beats or new grooves, there is nothing “almost” about ‘Away From The World.’ These are tunes to hear live and fans will be sure to find treasures off this album just as they did when they first listened to “Under The Table And Dreaming,” or “Crash.”
Written by Linda Turk
OurVinyl | Contributor