Like subways or mailmen or birds that chirp you awake the minute the morning sun slips over the horizon, the Dave Matthews Band is an institution we rely on to excel at a very specific service, and that service is proggy, stoned jams. Songs are like road maps for a band like that. Players can either take the shortest path between point A and point B or get creative and zip through truck stops and back roads. A memorable trip is more than just a game of taking every turn your GPS recommends; it’s about lassoing unpredictability and adapting to unfamiliar territory, about trusting in togetherness and a traveler’s spirit.
Studio albums present an intriguing challenge for bands celebrated for never playing a song the same way twice. How do you make the definitive version of a tune your audience accepts as existing in a hundred incrementally different permutations? How do you appease a listenership that eats up “just the jams” edits of popular gigs, cuts where an intrepid listener scoops out the intros, outros, verses, and choruses of a song, leaving only the roving sections of expert interplay in between? The answer is to play your heart out and hope it sticks. The new Dave Matthews Band album, Come Tomorrow, is a collection of songs both new and old that, when it sizzles, captures the Charlottesville collective’s fun-loving, down-home essence. As per usual, Matthews’s taste for cheese makes some of this music a hard sell.
Come Tomorrow is a love album, a collection of songs about the joys of life and companionship. The songs that carry out this business most pointedly are the best. “Here on Out” and “Virginia in the Rain” are both highlights in that respect; the former is a quaint, quiet love song aided by just an acoustic guitar and tasteful strings, and the latter plants Matthews behind the organ while he muses about the fleeting joy of youth as a father making memories with his children. Matthews’s natural sentimentality runs a little cloying on “That Girl Is You” and “She,” though. The vocal on the one sounds like baby talk, and the other’s lyrics are the kind of gamey melodrama that makes Dave Matthews Band somewhat of a guilty pleasure and a mainstay during dramatic movie scenes like Lady Bird and Peter Rabbit’s “Crash Into Me” sequences.
Preexisting jams — “Can’t Stop,” “Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin),” “The Idea of You” — are “Dave” qua “Dave.” They all toy with different combinations of the Dave Matthews Band trademarks: noodly acoustic guitar licks on loan from “Rhyme and Reason,” soaring choruses like “Stay (Wasting Time)” and “Grey Street,” and the gripping string work of “The Stone.” Branching out is risky, and it doesn’t always do the music favors. Producer John Alagía’s chunky riff on “She” sounds like a math rock deconstruction of the marquee guitar line from Kansas’s “Carry On Wayward Son.” (Although the wigged-out clavinet solo Mark Batson lays down in the last minute of the song is worth the price of admission.) The moody low end of “Again and Again” could slide into this year’s A Perfect Circle album Eat the Elephant pretty much as is.
In spite of some minor tight spots, Come Tomorrow is a pleasant collection of warm, upbeat tunes that does justice to the existing live-show staples that source it. It’s all solid backyard cookout music and comforting headphone music. If you’re a diehard Dave fanatic who’s heard most of these songs already, you’ll be pleased to know the studio versions don’t break anything. If you’re a lapsed fan or a curious onlooker, Come Tomorrow works great as a quieting moment in an already overstuffed and overwhelming year.