Matthews returns with solo CD

George Sloan

“Everything’s different,” Dave Matthews sings on his new solo album. Matthews has nothing to lose, nor does he have anything to prove. He leads one of the world’s most popular jam bands. The singer/songwriter from South Africa has been playing guitar since he was a teenager. In 1991, while bartending in Charlottesville, Va., Matthews found several local musicians to help him record a demo tape. The quintet began playing gigs soon thereafter and positive word-of-mouth began to spread.

In 1993, having taken their lead singer’s name, the band released its first album, “Remember Two Things.” With the album riding the top of the college charts, they began touring the country, gaining strong grass roots following. Highly charged and emotional performances invigorated audiences. Further solidifying the connection between band-members and fans was the decision to allow recording equipment into the shows. A vast network of traders quickly developed and the band’s popularity grew exponentially.

Eleven albums and more than a decade later, Matthews has decided to venture out on his own. His recent solo effort, entitled “Some Devil,” was released Sept. 23. Though having made clear that this sabbatical is not implicative of a band-breakup, Matthews’ departure is a welcome one. Despite similarities to previous band material, the new album reveals an entirely different side of Matthews, both musically and personally.

At times, the album is haunting and gloomy. At others it is light and optimistic. Overall however, Matthews, with the help of several guests, including Phish front man Trey Anastasio and DMB regular Tim Reynolds, has created a stirring collection of songs. “Dodo,” the opening track, sets the tone with soft percussion and smooth vocals.

“So Damn Lucky,” the album’s second track, opens with a river of sound: beautiful guitar floating in and out of violin strings. “Take me back/Just before I was spinning/Take me back/Just before I got dizzy,” sings Matthews. As always, his simple lyrics fit snugly with his guitar’s rhythm. Some Devil, while seemingly simple in content, is rich in texture. Matthews was clever to pick this as his title track. The song “Some Devil,” is four minutes filled with a hollow, brooding electric guitar with only Matthews’ vocals as accompaniment. “Stay or Leave” and “Grey Blue Eyes” add a dreamy texture to the record, while “Up and Away” serves as a homage to reggae, one of many influences on Matthews’ music.

On “Gravedigger,” the album’s most daring number, Matthews holds nothing back. “Gravedigger/When you dig my grave/Could you make it shallow/So that I can feel the rain,” he wails as an entire string section plays underneath. “On Too High,” a driving acoustic beat leads the song to its grand finale in which a full orchestra builds to crescendo and then explodes, completely burying Matthews’ voice.

Unlike some records, “Some Devil” requires more than one listen. After a second and third time, lyrics take on new meanings and layers of hidden instruments seem to emerge. Matthews, ready to begin a tour promoting the album, has undoubtedly progressed as a musician. His newfound confidence to perform solo shines through in all fourteen of the album’s tracks. Yet no track is overbearing; each exudes a strong sense of humility. “Some Devil” is a fine effort by Matthews and should not be overlooked.