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Monday, July 21, 2008

Jakob Dylan

Seeing Things (Columbia/Starbucks Entertainment)

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   With the Wallflowers on hiatus, the band's frontman, Jakob Dylan—who happens to be the result of rock's greatest romance in Bob and Sara—attempts to find his own identity among the usual route of hushed obscurities and loosely finger-picked acoustic guitar.

  Seeing Things is a far cry from the commercial-leaning rock of Dylan’s band days, and generally it’s an improvement, with mature rustic instrumentation and expansive songwriting that channels the likes of Jackson Browne and Nebraska or Devils and Dust-era Springsteen. And with "All Day and All Night," a workaday country rambler for Friday night, there is the playfulness of Lyle Lovett; while the dusty shufflers—like "Everybody Pays as they Go"—would find a welcome home on John Hiatt's Memphis main streets.

  But darkness still lurks, and the album's ghost could very well be that of Springsteen's own Tom Joad. Harkening a grizzled Tommy Lee Jones, in his don't-tell-me quest of In the Valley of Elah, there is a from-the-headlines murkiness that occasionally makes Dylan’s metaphors and humor a difficult listen. But while Neil Young has proven how CNN-fueled songwriting can be irksome, Dylan handles the likes of "Evil is Alive and Well" and "War is Kind" with a tangential nature, leaving it at an of-the-moment edge instead of slipping into liberal posturing.

  As modern music's most fortunate (the genes!) and least fortunate (the shadow!) heir, Jakob Dylan deserves a break, as it’s inevitable that audiences will always expect more. While there will never be another Blood on the Tracks, Seeing Things is a step in the right direction and an effort that stands firmly on its own.