Fans of Dave Matthews -- and there are tons of 'em, just check out his three sold-out shows at the Gorge for proof -- know the band's musical saga of the past few years well. After Before These Crowded Streets, Dave and the guys started recording a new CD, but midstream they dropped the songs, fired their producer and started all over again. The result was the massive-selling Everyday. Soon after Everyday came out, however, those old songs resurfaced, somehow, on the Internet, called The Lillywhite Sessions (after axed producer Steve Lillywhite). Fans gobbled that up, too -- some critics even put it on their year's 10 best list.
Unhappy that fans were getting half-finished music, the band dusted off those songs, finished them (without Lillywhite) and have put them on Busted Stuff, which also includes two new songs. I was no big fan of Everyday -- I thought it watered down the acoustically complex Dave Matthews Band trademark sound -- but I never heard the bootleg Sessions, either. So for me, the hype was probably right on; this CD reestablishes the band's sound, although it's a little too mellow and dark to get back quite to the peaks of Before These Crowded Streets or Crash.
What I always liked about Dave is the jam band elements without the electricity, distinctly flavored even more with the saxophone (from LeRoi Moore) and violin (Boyd Tinsley). Along with Dave's acoustic guitar, the sounds these guys put out on songs like "Lie in Our Graves" and "Crush" defied what I once thought was possible in music. People who didn't like Everyday pointed out that you could barely hear Tinsley and Moore on that record. All that is fixed on Busted Stuff, and the two are back where they belong -- at the forefront.
New classics from Busted Stuff include "Grey Street," which features a perfect Matthews hook, and "Grace is Gone," a slower number that really grows on you. "Bartender" mimics some of the themes of "Grace is Gone" -- specifically, drinking to forget. (Hey, Dave used to be a bartender; he knows about these things.) But it's very different, as it turns, satisfyingly, into an epic jam by the end. (A live version of "Bartender" is also featured on the bonus DVD.) Of the new songs, "Where Are You Going" stands out for its atmospheric, moody production -- yes, that's piano you're hearing in there.
The verdict: A trip back to the basics is a fruitful one for the DMB.