Every week we get tons of CDs at L.A. Weekly and we try to figure out which are important to our readers. This week's somewhat unexpected gem came courtesy of Jakob Dylan. His brand-new collection, Women and Country (Columbia), is a real treat and by far the most interesting release by the former Wallflowers front man.
Women and Country is subtle, funny, intimate without being hermetic and a good, contemporary take on the grand old country tradition. The first impression was: "Wow, Jakob Dylan made the best Springsteen record in years," something small, artful and rough in all the right places — like hearing Nebraska right after the Born to Run era.
We spoke with Dylan on the phone following his return from SXSW, where he performed some of the new material with Neko Case's band. Case's vocal ornamentation and producer T-Bone Burnett's arrangements are a big part of the new record's clear, unfussy sound.
We told the singer his latest sounded very different from a lot of material that comes out on big labels, especially country albums. It sounds more like the smaller scenes you can find in L.A. at places like the Bootleg Theater or Largo. We were curious whether this longtime Angeleno ever checks out those clubs.
"Well, certainly not as much as I used to, but yeah, I go out to all those," he says. "It's much better now, I know that. I grew up here in the '80s with all that pay-to-play stuff. We didn't have Largo, we didn't have the Mint. There are so many places for young bands right now."
Dylan thinks of the new material as a kind of roots music. "I guess people say 'roots music' and they have an image of 'Americana,'" he says. "But I just think of roots music meaning things of great substance that have already kinda stood the test of time. You are never going to regret using that or hearing that. You know they're always going to have a place.
"Technology usually ends up biting everybody in the ass at some point or another," Dylan adds. I'm not surprised that people seem to be looking backward a bit. It's very difficult today to find a place to be comfortable."
But Women and Country's roots are not of the dime-store, "Old Weird America" variety. Some of the tunes, like the playful "Smile When You Call Me That," even have the relaxed feel of a polished Gary Stewart record from the mid-'70s. It would be unfortunate if this release is noticed only by nostalgic Wallflowers fans or Mojo subscribers. This is a fantastic L.A. country record that can be appreciated by fans of Neutral Milk Hotel, Joanna Newsom or Bonnie Prince Billy.
Plus, as it turns out, Dylan's also a fan of our paper. "I've been reading it since I was a kid. I'm on the Internet as much as anybody else, but 'Sit down, have a cup of coffee, look at the L.A. Weekly,' that's it. A lot of us really care about actual print."