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Jakob Dylan’s ‘Seeing Things’ finds him a new place in the music scene

James DuBray | Friday, November 14, 2008

In the The Band’s famous Civil War themed tune, Levon Helm exclaims, “Like my father before me/I will work the land.” Jakob Dylan, known for his time as lead singer for The Wallflower’s, seems to have borrowed the Bob Dylan associated group’s sentiment with his debut solo album, “Seeing Things,” which is a gutsy record on many levels. First, much like his father before him, Jakob has the confidence to accompany his songs with sparse instrumentation, allowing his lyrics to come to the forefront. And unlike his fellow acoustic peers, Dylan’s lyrics overcome childish sentimentality and banal quips. Banana pancakes are tasty once in a while, but certainly don’t need a song written about them. In an equally audacious move, Dylan not only signed to his father’s lifelong friend Columbia records, but also released his record in daddy’s staple Red CD format. Despite the not so subtle trademarks, Jakob’s record here seems more akin to Johnny Cash’s work or even Helm’s recent solo album than to Bob Dylan’s work. Paired with famous producer Rick Rubin, Dylan and Columbia put out the 38 minute solo record on June 10th. The album is largely meant for Sunday morning reflection – the instrumentation contains itself to Dylan’s acoustic guitar and voice, with a muted drum and bass heard on a few songs. The beauty of the record is its thematic focus, which provides a sense of Pete Seeger populism that acknowledges the darkness in the world, but ultimately finds a sense of hope in the value of work and companionship. During the “Valley of the Low Sun,” Dylan comments, “I know that soldiers are not paid to think/But something here is making us sick.” While the Bush bash is not so subtle, Dylan employs a Colin Meloy sense of Americana infused imagery in the tune to discover a notion of meaning within the horrors of an endless war, “Of snow covered beaches and junkyards of diesel/And bombers named after girls.” Dylan’s voice sounds world-weary throughout the record. His lyrics reveal a man who seems much older than his 38 years. The album tells stories of, “Boarded mansions and ghost filled yards,” that contain, “… a boy in a water tower counting cards,” and, “… an outlaw now standing at the foot of infinity.” These sorts of tales and images may seem somewhat out of place on a record made by a guy from L.A., yet Jakob Dylan has always sounded much more comfortable talking about anything but his personal life. The highlight of the album is the single “Something Good This Way Comes.” On this mid tempo, upbeat ditty, Dylan lets go of the rustic backrooms and takes his characters on a highway, which leads to the redemption of their souls. The record that began with the declaration, “…evil is alive and well,” shifts to greener pastures where there is, “…sweet apple pie on the stove.” Jakob’s voice seems much more at ease in this song as he sits back and sings about this apple pie and a “…good woman by my side.” The album ends with a lyrically brilliant song, “This End of the Telescope,” which reveals the former Wallflower in an unusually personal light. Jakob closes with an ode, “Companions we made didn’t last/Lousy lovers do well with their hands/But I’ll reach you like nobody can.” Jakob Dylan’s solo debut is not earth shattering. Yet, after the three albums that followed the Wallflowers’ commercial success, “Bringing Down the Horse,” were marked by critical indifference, the singer songwriter clearly needed a change. Jakob Dylan’s return as an acoustic troubadour proves to be a treat to fans of lyrical strength of beauty.