by Alan Sculley
When Jakob Dylan and his band THE WALLFLOWERS were recording their second album, Bringing Down the Horse, they weren't thinking about hitting it big. Instead, the goal was far more modest.
"When you're a band that's not successful, you're always looking for the next break," Dylan says. "That doesn't mean massive success as much as it means you're fighting to keep your job, fighting to pay your bills, fighting to do a little better than you did the last time so you can stay on a record label. You're fighting to keep your band together because people leave when you're not successful. And it was a struggle."
Dylan's not being dramatic in putting things into this perspective. The fact is, the Wallflowers' self-titled 1992 debut album was a fairly spectacular flop, topping out at about a meager 40,000 in sales. Seeking a new start, Dylan and the Wallflowers asked out of their contract with Virgin Records -- a request the label was more than happy to honor.
But offers from other labels didn't pour in, and by the time the Wallflowers eventually got a new deal with Interscope, three of the band members had left the group, leaving guitarist/singer Dylan and keyboardist Rami Jaffee as the only original Wallflowers. Dylan admits Interscope's expectations for Bringing Down the Horse were not that high.
"When I made the record, I was concerned with getting 12 more songs on a CD and doing a little better, or getting further than I had the time before," Dylan says. "My idea was not to conquer the world. It never has been. I want to achieve more each time I do these things than I had last time. And that doesn't necessarily mean sales or exposure."
Dylan and the Wallflowers not only took a step forward artistically, but a huge leap in popularity. By the time Bringing Down the Horse finished its run, it had spawned four hit singles -- "6th Avenue Heartache," "One Headlight," The Difference" and "Three Marlenas" -- and worldwide sales had hit six million. The band plays the Fox on Saturday night.
Obviously, Dylan, Jaffee and the other members of the Wallflowers -- bassist Greg Richling, guitarist Michael Ward and drummer Mario Calire -- approached their latest effort, Breach, in a completely different state of mind. But Dylan suggests that the focus he brought to the new sessions had not shifted much from where it had been four years earlier when the Wallflowers were virtually unknown and Dylan's chief claim to fame was that he was the son of music legend Bob Dylan.
"My main concern was just in the songs," Dylan says. "I wanted to explore different styles of songwriting that I hadn't really done before. And that involved actually being simpler than I had been before, and I wrote more direct."
On a musical level, the album retains much of the rootsy pop feel of the band's previous effort. And like Bringing Down the Horse, Breach has its share of songs that reveal Dylan's notable talent for memorable melodies. Lyrically, though, there are notable contrasts. While Dylan has always invested plenty of feeling in his songs, the shift toward more of a direct, first-person perspective heightens the emotional tension of several songs.
This is bound to raise the curiosity of fans who have always searched Wallflowers' lyrics for clues about Dylan's relationship with his famous father. On past records, any such references were tenuous at best. But Breach has a pair of songs --"Hand Me Down" and "I've Been Delivered" -- that could easily be interpreted as chronicles of the challenges that can come living in the shadow of someone whose impact has been as profound as Bob Dylan's.
"Hand Me Down" in particular is a stinging look at trying to live up to the expectations of others. Of course, the song could just as easily be about the demands of any parent or friend, or the failures of any public figure to live up to expectations. And it should be noted that in various interviews, Dylan has praised the parenting skills of his father and his mother, Sara (the couple divorced in 1977, but both spent time raising Jakob and his four older siblings).
"To be honest, I haven't confirmed or denied that that song is about me or anybody that I know," he says. "But I think that writers have had an easy time assuming that it is because they're looking for it. It's not interesting to me to correct people. I think songs are for interpreting. That's kind of what's entertaining about songs, and that's what's interesting to me when I listen to other people's songs. I really like the process of trying to figure out what the point is. That's what's important to me -- and that the songs relate to people in any fashion. It doesn't have to be my point."
The Wallflowers perform with guest Steve Poltz at the Fox Theatre on Saturday, Aug. 11, at 8 pm. Tickets: $26.50. Call: 325-SEAT.
by Mike Corrigan
The jazz saxophonist who put up with Jay Leno for two whole years will be performing at the Festival at Sandpoint this Saturday evening. I don't mean to trivialize BRANFORD MARSALIS' many other accomplishments in the entertainment world, but let's face it, The Tonight Show made Marsalis a household name. And anyone with the stomach to withstand Leno's hairbrained attempts at humor for as long as Marsalis did gets kudos from me. Yep, the man is made of stern stuff.
His reluctant sidekick to a late-night talk show host gig aside, Marsalis' career has been highly successful, not to mention impressive from a purely artistic perspective.
Marsalis (the eldest of four very musical brothers) studied at Southern University and Berklee before embarking on his first tour with Art Blakey's big band in 1980. In the years that would immediately follow this introduction to the life of a working musician, Marsalis switched from baritone sax to tenor before settling in on tenor and soprano with brother Wynton's influential group of the mid '80s. During this time, Marsalis developed his personal style (heavily influenced by John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and the ensemble sounds of the Miles Davis Quintet). In 1985, he teamed up with pop star Sting, a controversial move for a respected jazz artist that caused quite a stir among fans and precipitated a minor falling out with Wynton.
Marsalis formed his own band in 1986, and has since found his niche playing within the modest confines of a quartet where the feeling is intimate and immediate and the saxophonist's horn is given free reign as solo instrument.
Today, the members of his exceptional quartet include drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts (who in effect has performed with Marsalis for two decades), bassist Eric Revis and pianist Joey Calderazzo, successor to the late Kenny Kirkland. His latest album (with the deceptively conservative title, Contemporary Jazz) is a return to traditional jazz aesthetics that manages to push a few boundaries and expand the genre into the 21st century.
And he hasn't settled down yet -- the immensely talented Marsalis remains unpredictable, a rogue element in the continuing evolution of a uniquely American art form.
Branford Marsalis performs at the Festival at Sandpoint on Saturday, August 11, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $24.50. Call: 325-SEAT.
Grog for a good cause
by Mike Corrigan
Great Scott! A fund-raising music festival for Spokane's Cancer Patient Care center featuring eight local bands, massive food and drink specials and a charity raffle? You heard right. For the third year running, the friendly folks at the Great Scott Pub and Grill are throwing a party and collecting donations for a community organization that provides social service support for area cancer patients with limited financial resources.
What should you expect at the fest? Well, grub and suds in miraculous quantities and live music from the second the doors open at 2 pm until they close 12 hours later, that's what. Music-wise, the POURFEST lineup is all local and -- though leaning heavily toward the rock side of the spectrum -- agreeably diverse. Scheduled to perform are (in order) Thorin, Galactic Drugstore Cowboys, Downpour, Vertigo Bliss, Fluid, Eight Fold Path, Sweet Fancy Moses, Jupiter Effect and Vertigo Bliss.
Careful readers will note that I just listed Vertigo Bliss twice. Well, the fact is they are playing twice, ensuring that underage festival goers (who will have to leave the pub at 9 pm) will have an opportunity to catch the headliner's act.
"Vertigo Bliss were also instrumental in the planning and execution of this event," says Brian Rice of the Great Scott. "Without them, it would have been very difficult."
Though there is no cover, donations will be collected in the form of a raffle with prizes donated by local businesses.
Pourfest III at the Great Scott Pub and Grill, 5517 S. Regal, is on Saturday, Aug. 11, from 2 pm-2 am. All ages are welcome until 9 pm. No cover. Call: 433-0750.