By AVA LIVERSIDGE
When The Wallflowers established themselves as principal players in the post-grunge pop-rock emergence, they were met with praise, awards, and a horizon teeming with great expectation and talent. This was the high note upon which the outfit took hiatus nearly a decade ago.
Today, Jakob Dylan has taken hold of the a solo roots rock endeavor and is back with Exit Wounds, the long-awaited record.
What Dylan has been up to over the past decade may clue us in to the occasionally lackluster, then at times formidable, alternative rock presented on Exit Wounds. His hiatus
consisted most notably of solo projects met with varying degrees of critical acceptance, but all working within the same constraints of bolstered Americana. Dylan seems to have gotten comfortable, shunting some of his edge along the way.
Exit Wounds is The Wallflowers’ most succinct, tidy, record yet. It’s the reflection of years and years spent scrupulously mapping out one sound. That isn’t to say Dylan has not wisened over his solo years. Amidst the consistent formula of a leading piano part, some leathery electric guitar on top, and an arpeggiated acoustic accompaniment, there truly are pockets of brilliance.
“Roots and Wings,” track two of ten, is a dive-bar romp, both groovy and bitter, and featuring a crying electric guitar interlude that is certainly a record standout. “Darlin’
Hold On” features a slightly insipid chorus, but makes up for it in compelling verses and backing vocals, provided by Shelby Lynne and reminiscent of [Bob] Dylan’s later works. As the record’s requisite piano ballad, it’s underwhelming, but Dylan’s lyrical impulse hints at looming potential. The record comes alive on “The Dive Bar In My Heart” which boasts a breathlessness in its rant-ish cadence and urgency while maintaining the somber and emotional maturity that haunts all of Exit Wounds.
The record begins to crumble when a diversion from genre is attempted, particularly on its backside, including “Who’s That Man Walking ‘Round My Garden” which features a tedious bluesy call and response pattern. Any experimentation leaves the listener wishing for the days of pure, regurgitated roots rock. Regardless of any false starts or banal production value, Dylan is a veritably tuneful songwriter who was able to produce the familiar melodious tracks for which he is known.
He hums, “I hear the ocean (when I wanna hear trains)” on the track of the same title. Dylan seems to not only name the sonic juncture he has confronted, but also notes the progress that lies in front of him.
Holistically, the record speaks of searching and inquisition into the overcast side of life. Perhaps after Exit Wounds, Jakob Dylan will find what he’s looking for and The Wallflowers’ sonic evolution will emerge in earnest.