Jakob Dylan gets help on new album from T Bone Burnett, Neko Case
Songwriting can be viewed as a sort of alchemy, a process through which a musician creates something rare and valuable -- whether personally, artistically or commercially -- out of the base materials of everyday life.
Jakob Dylan’s forthcoming album, “Women and Country,” is a glittering example, something that began with only the slightest shred of raw material, in this case, one unrecorded song he’d written, not for himself, but with Glen Campbell in mind. After Dylan played it for producer and longtime family friend T Bone Burnett, Burnett challenged him to write more in the same vein, and what Dylan came back with immediately struck Burnett as something like gold ore.
“I do believe it’s absolutely the best batch of songs he’s ever brought to me to listen to,” Burnett said earlier this week. “I felt when he played me that first song that he had taken a giant step.… These aesthetic moments are undefinable, but the song reached me... It just rang that bell.
“With Jakob, it’s been like the sculptor who knocks away everything that didn’t need to be there. I think Jakob knocked away everything that was unnecessary and got to the core of what he does,” Burnett said. “It’s exciting, it was fast to work on, we did it all live, he was singing and playing, he wrote the songs in two to three weeks. That explosion of creativity, you can feel it.”
Burnett suggested female harmonies were called for on several of the songs, and turned to Neko Case, who’d never worked with Dylan before, and Kelly Hogan, who ended up singing with Dylan on several of the tracks. They just appeared with him at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, and will be backing him on a tour that reaches the Wiltern on May 13.
“I was definitely a fan of Wallflowers,” Case said in a separate interview. “I always liked Jakob’s voice, and he’s a very good songwriter without being showy. He wasn’t coming out the gate all crazy. He has such beautiful control over what he’s doing, and I enjoyed a lot of the sounds in Wallflowers music, because it had stuff in common with music I was doing at the time, which was super unpopular.
“T Bone asked me to do it and then he sent me the music. The first song I heard was ‘Down on Our Own Shield,’ and I was so drawn to it, I was so in love with that song. I was finally able to listen to the rest of them, but it took some time, because what I do when I hear something I like, I just repeat it and repeat and repeat it. Then I realized the rest were really awesome too."
The album features Burnett’s stable of players, including guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Dennis Crouch, steel guitarist Greg Leisz and drummer Jay Bellerose. Many of them also played on the multiple Grammy-winning Robert Plant-Alison Krauss collaboration “Raising Sand,” with which Dylan’s album shares something of the same sense of mystery and deep spirituality drenched in rootsy rock-folk-country atmospherics. (Burnett recently said there won’t be a sequel to “Raising Sand”: “They just hit a wall somewhere, and that’s about it,” he said by way of explanation.)
“I think our band has really come into its own in the last two or three years,” Burnett said. “That’s not to say we haven’t done great work before. We’ve been working together for 25 years, but it feels like lately it’s just turned into the Stax band, the Motown band and some of those others in the '60s: You go in, they play and it sounds good, period. I think the ‘Raising Sand’ record was one of the first ones where we got into that deep world of sound that we’re looking for…. Right now, we’re hitting on all cylinders.”
And even with all that in the background, Burnett feels the Dylan album is something special.
“I don’t know why it’s taken him this much time to get to this place,” Burnett said, “because it’s where he’s been all along, really…. I think his dad will really dig this one.”
-- Randy Lewis
Photo: Jakob Dylan outside a rehearsal studio in Hollywood. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times