It’s hard to imagine that Bringing Down the Horse was released in 1996. That was the album that introduced us to Jakob Dylan and his brand of songwriting. “One Headlight” was an immediate hit. While it is a familiar song, it doesn’t completely define either Dylan or the band, which has been going for 30 years now. Yeah. Just let that sink in.
Exit Wounds is the Wallflowers‘ first new album in nearly a decade, but it shows that the band haven’t lost their stride. Of the new album, Dylan said, “Nobody is the same as they were four years ago. That, to me, is what Exit Wounds signifies. And it’s not meant to be negative at all. It just means that wherever you’re headed, even if it’s to a better place, you leave people and things behind, and you think about those people and those things and you carry them with you. Those are your exit wounds. And right now, we’re swimming in them.” Leave it to Dylan to put hard times in such eloquent terms.
Dylan has a particular talent for setting up lyrics and then delivering something unexpected. You don’t have to wait to hear the first example of it. The melody of “Maybe Your Heart’s Not in It No More” features slide guitar and brings the Black Crowes to mind. In it, he sings, “It’s just water under the boat. It’s the only thing you got left that floats.”
No one will call this a blues album, but there is a subtle nod to the blues throughout. You can hear it mostly in the slide guitar work. While previous records like Red Letter Days seem more influenced by the Beatles, this feels more like the Rolling Stones. It’s not just in the slide guitar but also the rhythms. “I Hear the Ocean (When I Want to Hear Trains)” is a good example of the Stones’ influence. The guitar is deliberate and bluesy, and the rhythm is as groovy as anything the Stones recorded in the 1970s.
“Darlin’ Hold On” is a beautiful duet with Shelby Lynne. It would be misleading at best to call it a honky-tonk song. However, it does feature pedal steel and piano. And it is a duet that is easy to sing. Even if it’s not a honky-tonk song, it’s easy to imagine people slow dancing to this at the end of a night in a dark bar and singing the lyrics, “Darlin, hold on. I’m far, but I’m not gone.”
“The Dive Bar in My Heart” wasn’t the first single on this album, but it might be the best song. This song tells the story of someone who “slips in like smoke” into a bar that’s not the usual spot or crowd for the subject. In the bar, you hear “another slow jam, the same awful band”. By this point in the song, you start to wonder if you and Dylan hang out in the same places. You probably don’t. It’s just that he’s so adept at creating a unique song from an experience that many people have shared.
Exit Wounds isn’t radically different from the band’s other albums. It remains true to the formula the band have always embraced. The lyrics paint vivid pictures and are easy to sing. The melodies are instantly familiar, which is part of what makes them so endearing. And if it isn’t broke, why fix it?