What a difference an apostrophe makes — that is the apostrophe that differentiates Dave Matthews Band from Dave Matthews’ band, the latter of which shines through on Matthews’ first solo effort, Some Devil.
In his best all-around effort since 1998’s critically acclaimed Before These Crowded Streets, Matthews recruits long-time pal and guitar wizard Tim Reynolds, Phish front man Trey Anastasio and the Seattle Music Group orchestra (among others) for this venture. The result is a combination of sad lullabies, powerful ballads and tightly produced musical arrangements over the course of 14 tracks.
The biggest surprise on Some Devil is its strongest track, “Too High.” With a title that might make one connect it with the hallucinogenic fan-favorite drug ditty “Tripping Billies,” “Too High” is the most resounding track the album has to offer.
Lyrically, it is one of Matthews’ soundest efforts, not because it’s poetic, but because its imagery is as vivid as Matthews’ self-stated favorite, Before These Crowded Streets’ “The Dreaming Tree.”
The four-word chorus, “The slow hand quickens,” renders the image of a foreboding clock in the listener’s mind, as the image of a speeding hour hand leads into the song’s haunting conclusion.
The conclusion of “Too High” represents the only solo usage of the Seattle Music Group, which orchestrates a brutal onslaught of strings interrupted by sonic-booming brass. The result is one of Matthews’ best works, with or without his band.
Another bright spot on Some Devil is the album’s first single, “Gravedigger.” Matthews takes a risk in releasing this dark, Dylanesque story of untimely death and reflection, but it proves that Some Devil is art for the sake of art — not for the sake of money.
It is undetermined if Some Devil will be accepted by the DMB community. Truth be told, the record, with the exception of two songs, sounds nothing like Dave Matthews Band has ever produced.
The short and sweet “Baby” boasts only Matthews’ quiet acoustic with a string quartet, while “Stay or Leave” employs an array of instruments, including Matthews’ beatboxing.
The droning, emotional “An’ Another Thing” sounds more like Gregorian chant than what fans are used to hearing from Matthews already unique voice.
The two DMBesque tracks on Devil are the short but catchy “Oh” and “Up and Away,” both of which employ the carpe diem philosophy Matthews’ music is known for.
The album’s title track is this effort’s bluesiest. Matthews sings over a sad electric guitar “You said ‘always and forever,’ / Now I’ll leave you baby / You said ‘always and forever’ / It’s such a long, lonely time.”
Whether Some Devil will prove commercially successful remains to be seen. But what Some Devil does prove — though some DMB faithfuls might be loath to admit it — is that Matthews can make it on his own.
The album also comes with a bonus disc containing five songs from live shows Matthews performed with Reynolds on their 2003 spring tour.
And therein lies the negative of Some Devil. While many DMB faithfuls may enjoy his first solo effort, Matthews has garnered most of his acclaim from his energetic live performances, where he and his band are famous for lyrical and instrumental improvisations of old DMB staples. DMB songs evolve during the course of years, and unless Matthews has the time and money to travel with an orchestra and Some Devil’s other guests, chances are this album in its current form is as good as it gets.
While Matthews is scheduled to tour with Reynolds and Anastasio this winter, the sound of Some Devil could prove tough to duplicate acoustically.