DMB with their new offering These Crowded Streets moves in a different direction while continuing to focus on what Dave fans expect: a couple of good ballads, ambiguous lyrics, outstanding performances in the rhythm section by Carter Beauford on drums and percussion, and Stefan Lessard on bass, quirky and interesting sounds from LeRoi Moore on sax, pennywhistle & bass clarinet, and Boyd Tinsley on acoustic violin, plus the compelling vocals by Dave Matthews. While staying with their signature organic sound, the band adds some arresting elements to this new set of songs. There is a shift toward world music, a focus on strings, and the addition of guest vocals. This is a more complex and interesting CD than pervious work. DMB has a way of sounding different which each new playing. Some of this has to do with an absence of a chorus or hook phrases and some of it has to do with the way layers of sound pull apart into solos. During one listening, the focus can be on the lyrics and vocals, and another time the ear is tuned into the Tinsley or the rhythm section or Moore’s horn. The distinctive quality of DMB is that is sounds familiar while sounding always new.
“The Last Stop” opens with a demented belly dance rhythm then moves more strongly into a middle eastern melody. It is punctuated with Dave’s zealous vocals. There seems to be no meaning to this song other than a general end of the world tone. Certainly, Dave sings, “You’re righteous, you’re righteous, ” with fanaticism. The vocals produce a dark line that reels above the funky sounds of a middle eastern bazaar. Then in a surprising move it ends with a banjo solo. Many of the tracks begin one way and take several turns to end up in a different sound zone all together.
The absence of the lyrics for “Halloween” in the CD booklet (unless of course it was only mine) will certainly play into the growing Dave myth. Also, this is a very creepy and menacing song. It begins with strings supplied by the Kronos Quartet, which conjures an impression of a slightly off-centered Disney Cartoon soundtrack. Then it goes awry in a big way. I am not entirely sure of the lyrics, as Dave’s demonic growls are almost undecipherable. However, a few are clear, “love is hell, shadows on the windows, why this lonely love, and bury all, bury all.” The song ends with devilish howls and blends seamlessly into the next track as the Kronos Quartet continues their work on “The Stone.” The Dave Matthews Band is able to access the shadow side of life in their music in much the same way The Police did in the early eighties. On the surface it rocks, but underneath there is something strange and hidden. Lets hope Dave won’t Zen-out the way Sting did as one “Roxanne” is worth five hundred “Fields of Wheat or Rye or Oats or whatever sort of high fiber low fat cereal he sang about – Golden Grain?”
However, there is nothing very dark or weird about “Stay. (Wasting Time)” The soft rock start had me thinking, what’s with the goofy-ass lyrics, “You and me/ You and me/ just wasting time/I was kissing you.” Then it is lifted up by the very pleasing background vocals supplied by Tawatha Agee, Cindy Myzell, and Brenda White King, who grind “Stay” to an R&B grove. The last track is reserved for a ballad “Spoon.” Alanis Morissette supplies angelic guest vocals to the song, Bela Fleck brings some banjo licks into the mix, and Dave uses his expressive voice to sing a bittersweet love ballad. The DMB always manage to produce a CD that combines disparate elements to create a satisfying whole and Before These Crowded Streets is no exception. This CD has everything a Dave fan likes and expects and then a whole lot more.