[10 June 2008]
What is it about Generation X and hesitance to following in their father’s footsteps?
In our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, it seemed as though it was every boy’s dream to grow up to be just like their dad, whether he was a doctor or a policeman or a musician or a garbage man. The preparation to take over one’s father’s place in his particular line of work was a rite of passage, and in several cases, an expected act for growing sons. Maybe it’s because many of our fathers are either corporate shills or out-of-work bums who totally lack the work ethic of our grandfathers that’s caused the polemic shift in aspirations to be like them, but that’s another rant for another day.
Jakob Dylan is an exception to the Gen-X rule in that he did follow in the footsteps of his famous father, the artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman, by venturing into the realms of his craft. However, the music he has made with his band the Wallflowers is hardly indicative of the fact that he sprang from the loins of the same man who created such bonafide American masterpieces as The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. In fact, I would personally rather sit through such infamous Bob Dylan duds as Empire Burlesque or Under the Red Sky ten times over than sit through Bringing Down the Horse or Rebel, Sweetheart just once. It can be perceived as insulting to a longtime Bob fan that his son would rather create maudlin alternative bar rock just a hair above Hootie & The Blowfish than stake his claim as the heir apparent of one of the most prestigious sounds in rock history. Why? Fear of encroachment upon his famous pop’s shadow? Son, please…
Well, having placed the Wallflowers on “temporary hiatus”, it seems as though Jakob is ready to admit he is indeed his father’s son in sonic form with the release of his solo debut, Seeing Things. Having signed to Dad’s longtime label Columbia Records, the young Dylan wastes no time in making his presence felt, having renowned producer and newly-appointed Columbia head Rick Rubin helm this record. Rubin, who has found his niche in the last decade-and-change reinventing the sounds of such legendary music icons as Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Donavan and Neil Diamond, takes the same approach he took on Cash’s American Recordings series with Seeing Things, bringing Dylan’s voice up front with very minimal musical accompaniment so as to keep the lyrics the main focal point. And lyrically, this is clearly Jakob’s strongest material to date.
Against a hushed sound environment that is more reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska or The Ghost of Tom Joad than his father’s early protest folk material, Dylan rallies against the Iraq War on “Valley of the Low Sun” with such thinly-veiled lines like, “We bow down and worship these bandits and cowboys / Unable to hold their own guns.” He laments the plight of the working class on “All Day and All Night”, sympathizing for the “good men” who “are busy all the time” and “working double shift all night”. Shades of the elder Dylan’s textual imagery shine on tracks like “War Is Kind” and “On Up the Mountain”, accented by some beautiful acoustic guitar phrasing that is just a chip right off the old block. He saves his best for last, however, on the gorgeous “This End of the Telescope”, an allegorical journey through the hills and valleys of unrequited love that serves as a perfect punctuation mark to a most beautiful, fulfilling album.
I’m sure the fanboys on Expecting Rain, the acclaimed Bob Dylan fan site, are applauding as we speak.