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ISSUE 116 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/15/2002

Stepping out of shadows

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, November 15, 2002

One may not know it from his music, but Jakob Dylan, the lead singer and main writer of the Wallflowers, has been through hell and back. Following 1997's breakthrough smash album Bringing Down the Horse, the expectations were incredibly high for the Wallflowers and Jakob Dylan, who is Minnesota native Bob Dylan's son. Writer's block and a near breakup slowed the release of the commercially dead Breach, an album mostly about Dylan living in the shadow of his father. Heaping misery upon misery, lead guitarist Michael Ward called it quits in 1999 after years of "creative differences." It has been two long, hard years, but against all odds the Wallflowers are back. Perhaps the Wallflowers have finally left all their baggage behind on Red Letter Days, an album filled with the kind of music that made "Bringing Down the Horse" such a success. Dylan seems to have found a kind of peace in wistful summer songs like "When You're on Top" and "How Good It Can Get," crafting slow building melodies and memorable choruses that stick long after the music stops. Chalk it up to name recognition that Mike McCready, the virtuoso guitarist of Pearl Jam fame, guests on several songs, adding a much needed rock edge. The writing on Red Letter Days is less introspective than on Breach and the freedom to express every-day emotion is what makes the album so cohesive. The chord progression on "If You Never Got Sick" is immediately likable, changing tempo and rhythm to build to a simple but warm chorus: "Baby, if you never got sick/I wouldn't get to hold you." The organ driven stomp of "Everybody Out Of The Water" is the closest thing to an angry song on Red Letter Days as Dylan sneers, “Got to learn how to pray/Love won't be enough/Admit it now/Your information sucks." Even the slower tunes on Red Letter Days have a rejuvenated feel to them. "Closer to You" is a slow waltz, sprinkled with airy strings and chiming percussion. "Three Ways" is a quintessential mid-tempo masterpiece, eloquent in both lyrics and music. Dylan's voice has improved vastly in the last several years. His grave tenor blends into the music expertly on "Everything I Need" and "Feels Like Summer Again." The missteps on the album are negligible. With 13 tracks, some of Red Letter Days needed to be filler, but even the fluff on the album is decent. Jakob Dylan may not have the biting wit of his father, or the critical acclaim, but he has a wicked sense of melody and a voice that screams "rock god." He will never be Bob Dylan, but with Red Letter Days, Jakob Dylan has learned how to be himself.

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