Some of the first words Jakob Dylan utters in his rootsy purr on the first album from The Wallflowers in nearly a decade are “maybe your heart’s not in it no more.”
It’s a shrug of a statement directed at a romantic partner, but also a clever twist from one of rock’s most introspective poets.
Dylan’s heart is always in his work, to the point that he’s always thinking about songs, always writing them – except for when on tour, when he concentrates on the live performances – and always compartmentalizing ideas.
That the new album from Dylan and his Wallflowers, "Exit Wounds," out Friday, comes nine years after the band's last effort, "Glad All Over," isn't an anomaly for the son of music legend Bob.
Dylan typically takes several years between releases. Even The Wallflowers' hit-spawning 1996 breakthrough, "Bringing Down the Horse" with hits "One Headlight" and "6th Avenue Heartache," didn't produce a follow-up for four years ("Breach").
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For "Exit Wounds," Dylan took his usual measured approach to songwriting.
"You write how things affect you," he tells USA TODAY from Los Angeles. "I'm not much for sloganeering, but I also know I can't write today like I did five years ago."
Recorded in Los Angeles at producer Butch Walker’s studio, the 10 tracks were wrapped in a couple of weeks in early 2020. As with past Wallflowers records, Dylan fronts a rotating cast of musicians.
“(The Wallflowers are) always going to be my thing and I’ll always be the center of it,” Dylan says. “Each time I go back, some people will make sense for it and some won’t. It’s a continuing evolution. There’s no one lineup that has made two records.”
The majority of the players on “Exit Wounds” are members of Walker’s regular band: bassist Whynot Jansveld; keyboardist Aaron Embry; drummer Mark Stepro and Walker himself on guitars, keyboards and, on the rollicking “Who’s That Man Walking ‘Round My Garden,” the all-important cowbell.
“It’s fun to have a sandbox full of people, and it seemed fitting (to use my band),” Walker says from Los Angeles. “Those guys have backed me and Jakob up at fundraisers we’ve done together and it’s always a fun party, so I was like, ‘Man, let’s just use my guys.’ So it wasn’t a work-for-hire thing.”
At Dylan’s suggestion, Walker also recruited guitarist Val McCallum, who has played with Jackson Browne and Shelby Lynne. The meeting resulted in drafting Lynne for some of the most robust moments on “Exit Wounds” – the presence of her husky voice on four songs.
Though Dylan says he doesn’t typically seek out guests, he wanted a female duet partner for “Darlin’ Hold On,” a lilting, smoky-bar ballad. Walker inquired and Lynne joined the team in the studio.
“We had the song ready for her. I think she did it maybe twice and then it occurred to me, if she’s here and wants to sing (more), look how easy it is for her,” Dylan, 51, says. “It was a small group of people making this record and she was having a good time and just became part of the band for the album.” He adds with a laugh, “It’s hard to get noticed next to Shelby singing. She’s so good. If she asks me to come on a song, I’m gonna need some time.”
Lynne is also present on “Move the River,” one of the album's most anthemic songs, which features a staccato guitar line reminiscent of many a ’70s-era rock song.
“Oh yeah, there’s (David) Bowie, there’s The Clash, there’s (Bruce) Springsteen,” says Walker. “There’s that grandiose piano single note thing that Springsteen would do and the guitar is kind of skank guitar like The Clash. The common bond between Jakob and me is our record collection and he’s a massive Clash fan.”
With so many of the songs on “Exit Wounds” primed to flourish in a live setting, Dylan is understandably disappointed that a 53-date arena tour with Matchbox Twenty was postponed for a second time until 2022.
“This summer you have people dying to go to shows. I just hope by next summer they’re not going to be fatigued,” Dylan says.
But The Wallflowers will play a handful of small concerts this fall – including The Fillmore in San Francisco, The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, and The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey – and Dylan has modified his expectations about being back onstage accordingly.
“It’s not going to be quite normal just yet, but everyone will take whatever normal we can get,” he says. “I think people’s requirements for a good time have adjusted.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jakob Dylan and The Wallflowers first new album in almost 10 years