Dave Matthews’ album blends old and new sounds

Many bands rise to stardom and then fall quickly to obscurity.

The Dave Matthews Band is different. The band stays afloat simply by doing what it does best – playing good music.

Before These Crowded Streets (RCA Records) is the band’s long-awaited follow-up to last year’s smash hit Crash.. In its new album, the band stretches its musical dimensions but holds on to the unique blend of rock, jazz, funk and classical components that has become its hallmark. Before These Crowded Streets proves to be the band’s most mature and spirited album.

Longtime producer Steve Lillywhite has done a masterful job joining the five separate and powerful voices in the band to create a dizzying mix of passion and emotion. Although the songs’ messages take a backseat to the simple acoustic pleasure of the music, lead singer Dave Matthews’ lyrics continue to examine and take joy in life’s little pleasures.

While some of the band’s sounds have evolved, the dark, angst-filled love songs remain. Matthews’ voice wails in “Halloween,” a favorite of the band in its live performances. The song is a powerful testament to both love and regret. “Crush” is equally hard to resist. Its lyrics drip with romantic anticipation – “I wonder this/could tomorrow be/so wondrous as you there sleeping.”

“Pig” questions man’s place in the world: “I must say/I feel as small as dust/lying down here/What point could there be troubling/head down wondering what will become of me.”

The real treasure of the album is the last song, “Spoon,” a soft, sweet melodic duet with guest vocalist Alanis Morissette. Morissette leaves behind her own angst as she contemplates the future: “Some move ahead while/some lag behind/It’s like the balloon that/rise and then vanish/This drop of hope/that falls from his eyes.”

The Dave Matthews Band has risen from the depths of its past in Charlottesville, Va., to become a worldwide success. Before These Crowded Streets attempts to examine and understand what that success means.

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