Admitting you're still a diehard Dave Matthews Band fan these days is akin to admitting you still attend fraternity parties in section.
It's a confession you make enthusiastically at first, but then immediately regret once you hear the "Oh, really, them?" reaction. Some Devil, Dave Matthews' debut solo album, won't go very far in converting the naysayers (or, rather, luring the non-diehards back), but it will prove to Dave loyalists what they've known all along: The man is still one of the most talented artists in the business.
At first listen, Some Devil underwhelms. You can tell Matthews has been waiting for a while to unleash his typically beautiful lyrics, but the accompanying music initially leaves you wanting for more. You wonder why he brought in the likes of Trey Anastasio, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and others if their contributions were going to end up so low-key and seemingly under-produced. Why not just invite longtime collaborator Tim Reynolds (who does appear on quite a few tracks) over to the studio for a couple weeks to duel on some acoustic guitars?
The music's subtlety soon wins you over, however. Carter Beauford isn't jamming on the drums and Boyd Tinsley isn't tearing apart his electric violin, but the accompaniment is exquisitely mellow and allows Matthews to exhibit the most important instrument on the album--his own voice.
The choice of "Gravedigger" as the first single is expected, as it's the one you can imagine DMB first incorporating into its act--but it is a curious choice. Matthews intricately weaves four obituary-type stories into a compelling tapestry, but he sings it with the "angry Dave" voice that can be found in such DMB fare as "So Right" and "Don't Drink the Water." The theme is appropriate as death is also pretty explicit in "So Damn Lucky" and implicit in "Dodo," but the tone is too harsh for this album. (The fourteenth track, incidentally, is an acoustic version of "Gravedigger," perhaps because Dave realized the first version just didn't belong.)
The rest of Some Devil, however, makes up for the tone of "Gravedigger." The first track, the aforementioned "Dodo," is what "Two Step" is on DMB's classic Crash--the song that won't get much airplay but clearly out-does the hit single ("Crash Into Me" in the case of Crash) in every respect.
Although a better version of "Stay or Leave" is featured on the Dave-and-Tim five-song bonus CD that accompanies most copies of Some Devil, the stanza "Wake up naked/ drinking coffee/ making plans to change the world/ while the world is changing us/ Was good good love" are Matthews' most addictive lyrics in years. The title track features just Matthews and an electric guitar, and it's again the voice that triumphs. The back-to-back "Oh" and "Baby" are short and sweet in name and duration, but they whet the palate for the upcoming Dave and friends' tour, which diehard fans will surely do everything they can to catch.