The Lillywhite Sessions
label: not released
producer: steve lillywhite
surfaced online: 03.01
our score: 4.5 out of 5.0
In the age
of Napster, we've begun to believe the music our favorite artists
create belongs to us - heck we're fans; we're entitled to it.
Ever since Dave Matthews Band decided to shelve the album completed
during its Spring 2000 studio sessions with Steve Lillywhite in
favor of the decidedly glossier, pop-infused production of Glen
Ballard on Everyday, fans
of the band have been clamoring for the finished product of those
the recordings. It didn't help that the band road-tested several
of those songs ("Grey Street," "Bartender"
and "Grace is Gone" among them) on its summer tour,
effectively whetting the fans' collective appetite for an album
that wouldn't be. After the recordings were leaked to the Internet
in late March, however, fans finally got their hands on The
Lillywhite Sessions and heard what they had been missing.
And they had missed out on a lot.
and vaguely uninspired, the title tells more about the album than
anything the band's members could have slapped on it. It conjures
an image of Dave and his supporting cast sitting around a mic
in the studio bouncing song ideas off of each other. And that's
exactly how Sessions sounds. Loose, rough and raw (in direct
contrast with the slick, ultra-tight production of Everyday),
the arrangements give each member a chance to spread out and weave
himself into the songs. Violinist Boyd Tinsley and saxophonist
Leroi Moore do an impressive job of harmonizing and taking the
spotlight without inundating the songs with misplaced solos. Drummer
Carter Beauford employs his vast arsenal of wood blocks, cow bells
and cymbals, exhibiting his complex style that is noticeably absent
from Everyday. The recordings' unfinished quality is no
doubt the result of the album never receiving the finishing touches
applied to a studio release (Beauford can be heard counting off
the beat at the beginning of several tracks), but instead of cheapening
the music, it adds an improvisational, live energy usually found
only in DMB's concerts.
Sessions picks up where 1998's Before These Crowded Streets
left off, but here Matthews seems intent on retreating further
into the dark corner he retired to in writing Streets.
With titles like "Busted Stuff," "Digging a Ditch"
and "Grey Street," the direction of Sessions
is painfully obvious before the music starts. In Matthews' world,
women always leave ("Grace is Gone," "Busted Stuff")
and life is generally unbearable ("Grey Street"), but
there's always alcohol to soothe the pain ("Bartender").
The somber nature of this collection of songs sounds all the more
depressing against Everyday's saccharine blandness, but
given the band's previous releases, it's much more believable.
For all its
darkness, Sessions can't help but still sound fun at times.
"Grey Street," a story of several people who have all
but given up on life, is one of the catchier, happiest sounding
songs on the album. The mixing of heavy lyrics with music to which
his devout followers can dance is one of Matthews' greatest strengths,
and he executes it here with a talent he has yet to show off.
Much has been
made of Matthews' decision to switch to the electric guitar for
Everyday, and the attention was well deserved. Where he
had been relegated to the position of a rhythm guitarist on previous
albums (Matthews has joked about Lillywhite's propensity for turning
his guitar down until it was almost non-existent), he shoved his
way to the front of the music with his dirty, grinding play on
Everyday. On Sessions, however, he has yet to plug
in, and his playing takes on a more muted, modest tone, setting
the stage for Tinsley and Moore's texturing.
The time they
spent with Ballard did teach them to be a little more musically
concise, but the lessons had yet to be learned when Sessions
was recorded. For the most part, the looser arrangements and longer
song lengths work well. "Bartender" clocks in at just
over ten minutes, the majority of which is a concert-worthy jam,
but it never seems nearly as laborious or overstretched as "Monkey
Man," which is only half as long.
Everyday couldn't be more different, both musically and
lyrically. The former is unpolished, and gritty, while the latter
is honey-glazed pop. But despite its dark thematic texturing and
rehashing of formulas off which the band has made a living for
the three albums preceding Everyday, the pirated studio
sessions find Dave Matthews Band doing what they do best - playing
loose fun music that's tailor-made for live performances.
fan-created cover art and cd booklet here
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