We gave it an A-
The latest record by Dave Matthews Band is called Stand Up, just like the second Jethro Tull album, leading some — okay, maybe just me — to wonder if that peremptory title is some sort of nod to a group that can be seen as the DMB’s spiritual forebears. Think I’m joking? Consider: Both Tull and Matthews are frontmen unafraid to aggressively flaunt their fey sensibilities. Both bands prominently feature instruments (flute, violin) not commonly associated with rock, which they use to propel some exceptionally freewheeling musical flights. And both make people like music that was patently idiosyncratic and defiantly different.
That said, it must be noted that the phrase ”stand up” probably has more prosaic — or is that priapic? — implications for Matthews. ”I woke up to the angels a-singing in my head/You looked so good here next to me, the angel in my bed,” he sings on the rousing ”Stand Up (For It),” encapsulating his spiritual/sensual worldview in one neat couplet. One of Matthews’ gifts is that he can come on like an unrepentant lech one minute — as on the languidly lusty ”Dreamgirl” — then turn around and espouse a spiritual humanism that’s wholly convincing.
Such dualities remain intact, even under the guiding aegis of producer Mark Batson, who has twiddled knobs for Beyoncé and Seal, not to mention Eminem and — ulp — 50 Cent. Hiring such an urban-associated dude to tinker with the DMB’s trip might seem a dubious move, but don’t worry. Stand Up is no ill-advised attempt to go gangsta (although that would be something to hear). Batson has presided over the proceedings with judicious restraint, doing what the wisest producers have always done — that is, stir a band’s creative juices, inspire great songwriting, singing, and playing, then get the results down while everything’s fresh.
Grander-sounding and more ambitious than Some Devil, Matthews’ reflective 2003 solo effort, Stand Up is brimming with potential singles. The disc hopscotches among a dizzying array of sounds and approaches, ranging from the Otis Redding-in-a-mellow-mood vibe of ”Smooth Rider” and the jambalaya-flavored funk of ”Louisiana Bayou” to the hushed, piano-and-drums-driven resignation of ”Out of My Hands” and the swirling, string-enhanced paranoia of ”Everybody Wake Up (Our Finest Hour Arrives).”
Sometimes, of course, the most moving songs are the simplest. ”Steady as We Go” is a piano-propelled declaration of love that sounds like a lost Carole King ballad. It’s sublime. And hey: If the DMB are ever stuck for another record title (or source of inspiration), they might want to consider Tapestry. After all, Jethro Tull devolved into self-parody ages ago, but in our book, even King’s lesser albums still stand up.