Dave Matthews Band’s Grown-Up View of Love and Dread

Dave Matthews Band albums seesaw between joy and angst. On the home front, with a partner and family, the songs find affection, pleasure and ease. Beyond it, the wider world holds strife and dread. And looking inward can be just as troubling.

“Walk Around the Moon,” the band’s 10th studio album, opens with its title song, swinging the beat and exulting in a relationship that has saved the grateful singer: “You gave me everything/Now I’m flying into this kaleidoscopic dream.” But that dream doesn’t last; up next is a song about school shootings. “Madman’s Eyes” is set to an ominous, Middle Eastern-tinged modal riff and buttressed by a moaning, swooping string orchestra, as Matthews howls, “Don’t sacrifice another child!”

More than most rock songwriters — especially in the jam-band realm where he has been barnstorming for three decades — Matthews, 58, leans into being a grown-up. He’s an unabashed dad-rocker, a proud parent who has long been thinking and worrying about the welfare of his children and of generations to come. In “Something to Tell My Baby,” a waltz backed by only his acoustic guitar and a few strings, Matthews muses on how fleeting life can be, crooning in his humblest falsetto and wondering what memories to leave behind “to make them smile/And maybe make things easier.”

“Walk Around the Moon” is the band’s first studio album since 2018, and the first since its longtime violinist, Boyd Tinsley, left the band and was sued for sexual harassment by a musician in a side project; the case was settled in 2019.

The band’s sound had already been changing and deepening. On its 1990s albums, Matthews’s guitar — often acoustic — was the band’s only chordal instrument, joined in light-fingered counterpoint by saxophone, violin, bass and drums for staccato grooves that blended folk, funk and jazz. Through the years, as its audiences grew to arena size, the band was bolstered with keyboards, electric guitar and horns, growing brawnier, weightier and brassier. (Tinsley’s replacement is a trumpeter, Rashawn Ross.) But the band’s founding rhythm section — Carter Beauford on drums and Stefan Lessard on bass — still keeps the songs nimble, no matter how burdened Matthews’s thoughts can become.

“I’m down in this hole again,” he sings in “Looking for a Vein,” as he compares himself to a miner who works compulsively. “What if I strike it/rich as I want to be?” he muses over a loping, six-beat guitar lick. “Will it set me free/Or be just another hole to dig?” In “The Only Thing,” over a barreling electric guitar riff that hints at Led Zeppelin, Matthews is desperate to “Crawl out of this skin I’m living in/Crawl out of my mind into the outside.” And in “Monsters,” a reverberating ballad with a sputtering double time undercurrent, he’s trying to reassure a child — or possibly himself — that the “monsters in your head” aren’t real.

In these new songs, love, or even the possibility of love, solves a lot of problems: the fear in “Monsters,” the self-loathing in “The Only Thing.” Other songs — “After Everything” and “Break Free” — cautiously celebrate love going right, emotionally and carnally, with Matthews pledging devotion while full-tilt horn sections blare his delight.

But he’s well aware that love, in a happy domestic sphere, is just an individual refuge, not a global solution. “The world is going in all directions/Like bottles shattered on the floor,” he sings in the elegiac “All You Ever Wanted Was Tomorrow.” And he closes the album alone on acoustic guitar, with “Singing From the Windows.” The song imagines being within a siege, thinking about “when the war is over” while watching fires and hearing sirens.

“None of us know what’s to come tomorrow,” he sings. “So dance with me like the time we’ve got is borrowed.” Private comfort amid public catastrophe — it’s only a modest consolation, but that’s all there is.

Dave Matthews Band
“Walk Around the Moon”
(Bama Rags/RCA)

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