Band ninth studio release Come Tomorrow (8 June 2018, Bama Rags/RCA) has gone to number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, reportedly making them the
first group ever to have seven studio albums in a row hit that top spot. Not
bad for this talented band of musicians whose strength is often considered to
be in their live performances.
The album is the product of an unusual mix of factors, which overall very successfully gel together. Firstly, it was recorded in studios in Charlottesville (their home town), Seattle, and Los Angeles, and involved a plethora of producers including Rob Evans, Mark Batson, Rob Cavallo and John Alagia. Secondly the songs might be said to be the product of over a decades work; as the wonderfully jazzy Idea of You and funky Can’t Stop (featuring Dave Matthews on his Rockbridge Custom SJ acoustic), for example, have been staples of their live act for at least that period. Thirdly, in that time the band have been rocked by a number of difficult events, including the death of saxophonist and founding member LeRoi Moore in 2008, and the departure earlier this year of violinist Boyd Tinsley under the cloud of sexual harrassment claims (strongly denied by Tinsley). However, due to the album’s long maturation process, both these members feature, and possibly even influenced some of Matthews’ darker lyrics.
Nonetheless Matthews and his co-writers also mix it up with cheerier songs, and Come Tomorrow can in some ways be seen as an album unified by the theme of love: from the joys of parenthood (for example, on the lovely six minute plus guitar based track – thanks to Tim Reynolds and his Martin D-45 - Virginia in the Rain); through the passion of romance (Idea of You); to feelings of closeness towards someone important. These lyrical themes are explored musically by a heady fusion of bluegrass, rock, pop, heavy metal, funk, folk and jazz.
Here on Out is another strong love song sympathetically accompanied by orchestral touches and acoustic guitar.
If there is a weakness on the album it is possibly to be found in the occasionally vacuous lyrics, such as on the title track, Come Tomorrow: “All the girls and boys will sing, Come tomorrow we fix everything, So as long as we survive today, Come tomorrow we go and find a way.”
The metal influenced She also suffers from weak lyrics: “She will fill my bones and veins, She's the poison that will save you, She collects the laughter and the tears”, partly because it seems too close in content to Charles Aznavour’s same-titled popular theme song.
Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin) is an arena-type anthem that shines again largely because of a pokey guitar solo by Tim Reynolds. The song’s lyrics – broadly about the need for us all to come together to overcome the world’s problems – also adds to the sense of this being in Coldplay/U2 stadium territory. Nonetheless, it has a catchy hookline and is one that is likely to become another standard in their live performances.
The musicians in Dave Matthews Band are now ‘50 somethings’, and many of their concerns unsurprisingly relate to themes of ‘people of a certain age’. But the band have a formula that has proved to be consistently successful and Come Tomorrow, matured over many years, only looks like consolidating that success.