Talent grows in the family tree

Jakob Dylan playing the Newport Folk Festival in August 2008.  (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) Jakob Dylan playing the Newport Folk Festival in August 2008. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

When fathers and sons enter the same professions, there’s a natural and — hopefully — friendly competition between them. The father usually paves a path to follow, and the son is challenged to meet and exceed the feats established by his dad. Now, substitute Bob Dylan in for the father, and imagine yourself as his son. Can’t be an easy job, can it? How exactly does one live up to — and surpass — one of the men who shaped the face of music? Jakob Dylan, now 40 years old and still working, embraces the relationship. His newest solo album, Women and Country, was just released on April 6, and Jakob has a good chance of stealing his father’s fans.

His latest release might best be described as the soundtrack of a snake charmer in St. Louis. With Middle Eastern influences and muted trumpets, it’s a beautiful hybrid of differing genres that can’t be found anywhere else.

The opening track, “Nothing But the Whole Wide World,” really sets the tone for what the remainder of the album will feel like. It’s a beautiful and gentle easing into the journey Dylan is about to take his listeners on. It gives the audience a chance to get acquainted with his heavy voice and his layered lyrics.

“Down Our Own Shield” features the angelic backing vocals of Neko Case and Kelly Hogan in harmony with Dylan’s smoky tones. It’s a touching ballad about staying strong in a fight, and the music complements the lyrics magnificently. A strong musical intro soon invites the male and female voices to sing against a steady background beat.

The standout song is “Lend a Hand.” The song as a whole is reminiscent of an old-time circus, while Dylan, like an eccentric ringleader, recounts a story to his audience in poetic verses and clever rhymes. The song begins with heavy rhythmic drumbeats, like the introduction of a tamed elephant entering the ring. Accompanied by a blaring trumpet and electric guitar riffs, Dylan sings, “Suppose I quit you, my wayward tribe, whatever would you do? Now take me to Hades, or take me to Memphis, just don’t take me for one of you.”

If you can picture a movie scene of a band of men crossing the Sahara with a large sun setting behind a mountain of sand, “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” would be the soundtrack to that moment. Singing about a forgotten town that’s gone to shambles, Dylan takes breaks to allow for the instrumentation.

“Everybody’s Hurting” again welcomes Dylan and his female vocals joined in beautiful harmony. Here, the background violin joins the prominent pungi — the instrument of snake charmers, with a sound like a cross between a bagpipe and a kazoo. Dylan writes of promises and dreams as kids, telling a story and remarking, “How sweet salvation sounds.”

Jakob’s voice in “Holy Rollers for Love” is scarily similar to his father’s in the opening verse, and the lyrics could definitely pass for something out of Bob’s songbook. Here, Jakob sings about symbols of peace among times of war (”Battle songs fill their lungs”).

If you don’t listen closely, it’s pretty easy to go through the album in its entirety thinking you’ve listened to the first track on repeat 11 times. However, if you look at the lyrics — which are Dylan’s undeniable strong suit — or think of each song separately, you’ll find there are a good deal of gems among what seem like just echoes.

One thing that’s for sure is that there is creative musical talent in the Dylan blood. Jakob not only wrote all the lyrics to the 11 songs on his new album, but he composed the music and arrangements as well. These Middle Eastern-meets-folk compilations are great if you’re feeling quirky or want to hear some quality lyrics.