Verdict: The son of Bob heads for the darklands
Having stepped out of the shadow of the Wallflowers, Jakob Dylan increasingly occupies an almost MOR singer-songwriter world in terms of melody (the Eagles, LA singers of the early 70s) but to this he and producer T-Bone Burnett add weeping pedal steel, the occasional horn part, mandolin (courtesy of his dad's old pal David Mansfield) and backing vocals (Neko Case and Kelly Hogan) which shift this album towards Americana.
These are songs of an imagined heartland where uncertainty is everywhere, there are borderlines and rivers of tears, dams ready to burst, abandoned farms and the walking wounded. These songs come from that tradition of rural-based Americana brought into the contemporary world.
They've Trapped Us Boys ("fill the dirt back on the grave, ain't nothing good here being raised") might be about being trapped in a mine but is also a state-of-the-nation meditation.
But the comfortable settings strip many of these lyrics of their unease and the consistent tone of weary languor in Dylan's delivery lacks gravitas - especially in an end-of-days song with lines like "payback is coming around, the hourglass is sitting there on the table, filled on both sides now" and "take me to Hades or take me to Memphis, just don't take me for one of you". A fine but flawed album which needed more dirt under the nails to match some gripping lyrics.
Graham Reid: elsewhere.co.nz