About halfway through his band's first new album in three years, Dave Matthews announces, "I'm too old to wanna be younger now." It's an apt summation of where his head's at on this 11-song set, which reunites the Dave Matthews Band with original producer Steve Lillywhite for the first time since 1988 -- not counting the aborted 2000 sessions whose songs later surfaced on 2002's "Busted Stuff."
After the more full-bodied and bombastic tone of 2009's "Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King," "Away From the World" is more restrained, moody and subtle. It has its big footprint moments, of course, and there's an audible ambition that gives the album a crackling if slow-burning energy. The album is also decidedly inward-looking: with a couple of ruminations about the world out large (such as first single "Mercy" and "Gaucho"), "Away From the World" focuses on love, relationships and parental responsibility, making it both musically and lyrically a kind of state of the DMB union. The band is as intriguing and adventurous now as it was when the Lillywhite-produced "Under the Table and Dreaming" came out 18 years ago.
What are some of the standouts on DMB's latest full-length? Check out our track-by-track breakdown of "Away From the World":
1. Broken Things: A gritty, vintage-sounding DMB riff opens the album, with violin, saxophone and electric guitar intertwined into a sinewy attack that backs off for the verses. It's a love song ("Oh my love/My heart is set on you") but with its own twist, as Matthews cautions that "You can't always know what's coming/You can't always trust a twist of fate."
2. Belly Belly: Brassy, funky, playful and sexy. Matthews gets his money's worth out of saxophonist Jeff Coffin and trumpeter Rashawn Ross on this swivel-hipped romp, while Colvin slides nicely into Boyd Tinsley's fiddle on the solo breaks.
"Away From the World's" first single is a socially conscious plea that doubles as a relationship song, with Matthews declaring that we "can't give up and hope God will intercede." Though restrained and nuanced, with a captivatingly delicate outro, it verges on anthemic in spots with a gospel-like promise of love as salvation.
4. Gaucho: Matthews essays on the evolution and demise of a species that once "could do anything," insisting, "We gotta do much more than believe/If we really wanna change things." Tim Reynolds's electric guitar stands out in the song's middle, while Colvin and Ross play jazzy improvisations during an outro that finds Matthews leading the Youth Co-Op Choir through the song's refrain.
5. Sweet: A gentle, melodic trifle sung mostly by Matthews with just ukulele accompaniment before the group comes in with subtle touches at the end. Matthews encourages himself to "get out" of some troublesome spot and lets us know that he's "too old to wanna be younger now" -- although the guy in "Belly Belly Good" might not buy that.
DMB Covers Our
6. The Riff: The riff on "The Riff" is implied rather than as out front as its title suggests. Rather, this is a nuanced rumination filled with swelling ensemble dynamics and a hot Reynolds guitar break at the end.
7. Belly Full: It's just Matthews and his acoustic guitar delivering this short (1:43) unconditional love song tailor-made for a greeting card. "If I had my way... Make your belly full/And all your dreams to come true." is there any wonder why the girls swoon at his shows?
8. If Only: Matthews goes from being deeply in love to out of it -- but trying hard to get back in. The guy is on his knees throughout this soulful paean, marked by sax honks and ringing guitar patterns, and working it with such shameless humility that his dude genre credentials may well be in jeopardy.
9. Rooftop: He's trying to reverse that lost love again here, jumping between lively, West African-flavored verses and grinding, gritty choruses that accent Matthews pleas that "I want you to tell me that you want me...too." Cheap Trick, of course, said it more succinctly ("I Want You to Want Me"), but Matthews is clearly banking on honest, forceful urgency to get the job done.
10. Snow Outside: We're back in love again ("You know it is so right/Feels bigger than the whole worldwide"), but the real star of this song is the instrumental section that fills nearly the entire back half of its six minutes, with Tinsley's violin leading the group through a winding, textured outro.
11. Drunken Soldier: Do an old school needle drop anywhere in this suite-like 9:45 opus and you'll feel like you've found a different song. Sounding like the father that he, well, is, Matthews counsels, "Don't waste time trying to be something you're not," while he and the band spend the song being a lot of musical things -- front-porch jaunty at the start, rocking hard a minute later, sounding like they're exploring "The Dark Side of the Moon" during the last part of the song. Nearly three full minutes go by before there's any singing, part of a joyfully convoluted but clearly thought-out mess.