Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry at Big Orange Studio
The thick rings below Jakob Dylan's eyes are genetic, but they've also been earned by a father of four boys, as he's frequently running on little energy and non-existent time. He's politely lethargic and guarded in person, even with a kind and somewhat easy smile. The famous son of one of the most famous entertainers/poets/voices of all-time has made sure to impose the saggy, thick rings to his latest album, "Women & Country," produced by the great sunglassed man of mystique, T Bone Burnett. They're now his own rings, not at all inherited, as he sings like a slow-smoking locomotive moving through the open country acreage, with a heavier than ever load to bear. There are few indications lyrically that we're in our current age. Instead, we're experiencing time as it's always been and always will be, methodical and ruthless. There may be free-range cows, mowing and digesting along the tracks or muscular buffalo grazing leisurely, throwbacks to over a century ago. It takes us on this long haul and refuses to ever return us to the place we started and for this persistence and this longevity, this commitment to the course, Dylan has dedicated himself to writing what is arguably his finest record to date and a piece of work that has him both distancing himself from and bringing himself closer to the family's tree. It's a sweeping album full of songs that sound as if they've been considered and ruminated over with a splitting sun piercing straight through the windshield of a nowhere-bound automobile, producing a glare that's therapeutic and able to deliver a migraine. It will put you on your ass and send you reeling back, like a familiar scent or touch. It's a glare that's so captivating that it let's a driver or a rider into a consciousness that can elbow out all other distractions and get down to the pestering matters at-hand. It's an album that had to have been brewing and even if his press quotes about the speed at which these songs came out of him - at the behest of Burnett - once he had the linchpin of the record penned ("Nothing But The Whole Wide World"), Dylan had been burned in with these ideas for years, if not decades. These are thoughts that a man in a thinking mood stumbles upon again and again, coming to them with young eyes and a young heart and then the same man rounds back to them when those eyes are dragging, less sharp and the heart is beleaguered, but still something else and still something personal that's not to be tampered with. Dylan - here performing with his new band, which includes the incredible Neko Case and Kelly Hogan - sings about living in these spots where the great instability is as stable as we've learned to deserve. The insanity that draws us near couldn't feel any more natural and when he sings on "Holy Rollers For Love," "With battle songs filling their lungs/Move them out down under the sun/Give them tears for cherry red blood/Stack them old, we cradle them young/World is crazy or maybe just holy rollers for love," we throw ourselves out the window with him, for a good flight is all. It's a song, much like "Nothing But The Whole Wide World," that feels like the longest drive that we've come to believe we never want to see end. We're okay with just digging in and adjusting our seating when we start to lose a bit of feeling again.