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Published: Wednesday, 4/14/2010

Jakob Dylan teams with Neko Case on new disc

BY SCOTT MERVIS
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

Jakob Dylan is on the road with Neko Case, promoting his latest, "Women + Country." Grammy-winning producer T-Bone Burnett made his name as a member of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue tour back in 1975, so there's poetic justice in him having a hand in Jakob Dylan's success.

He produced "Bringing Down the Horse," the breakout album by Jakob's band the Wallflowers, in 1996. And now, the singer-songwriter, on hiatus with the Wallflowers, has turned to him again for his second solo album, "Women + Country."

With T-Bone at the helm, it's a very different affair than Jakob's spare solo debut, recorded with Rick Rubin. "Women + Country" has that thick, swampy alt-country sound that we expect from the producer of the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack and the Robert Plant-Alison Krauss collaboration.

When Jakob first visited Burnett and the idea for the collaboration came up, he only had one song in hand, a track called "Nothing But the Whole Wide World" that he wrote for Glen Campbell. The producer sent him off to work on a batch of songs that would make up the album.

Along with session pros like Marc Ribot, they were lucky to snag pop siren Neko Case.

He recently talked about the album and tour.

Q This is your second album as a solo artist. Do you like working in this manner?

AWell, I do now. I like being in a band and I like doing this. Not all songs are appropriate for the sound the Wallflowers make and everybody wants different things at different times. This is just what I want to do this year. I'm not sure about next year.

Q This one seems like a departure for you, sonically. How did this album come about?

AFor someone like me, my strength is writing songs. When you make records you have to make a lot of decisions on how you want those songs to sound. My last record I made was completely devoid of any sound other than acoustic guitar and vocal and that was intentional. Partly, I ended up not wanting to make any kind of decision on what canvas to put it on. With this, T-Bone works within a world and cultivated a group of artists and musicians that have very like-minded approaches to playing music. I wrote them knowing what the staging was going to be. When you're making that sound you're trying to transport the listener somewhere, and this group of guys have honed that down pretty well.

Q You went to him with one song and he told you to write 10 more. What kind of pressure did that put on you?

AThe good kind of pressure, which is ''Yeah, I want 10 to 15 songs in the next four weeks'' and if I go to work as soon as I get home, I know I can do that. I don't overthink and glorify them into being anything other than records. They're not my manifestos for how I feel at any one point. It's music and you're putting your imagination into use, so four weeks is plenty of time I thought to put that together and, as far as pressure, I'm not trying to impress anyone that I'm working with. I'm not on my first record at this point.

Q Do songs just come to you or is it a process of sitting down and saying ''Now I have to write one''?

AWell, ideas come to you when they come to you and I always keep track of them. But when it actually comes time to putting them all together, no, I need to set time aside and I go to work. I'm not channeling anything. It's not a metaphysical thing. I go to work. But the ideas that your songs are written within, that's the part that is of course frustrating, but it's also full of excitement too, just hoping that tomorrow you get up and something's going to occur to you to put into a song and then you put the song around it.

Q You seemed to be writing in a cinematic way, like watching a western ...

AThat's intentional - I like to do that. That's what all music is attempting to do is to take you out of whatever space you're in. I don't think it's meant to fool you, but it's nice to leave the room when you're listening to music - especially if you're sitting in front of a laptop or high end recording system. I think it's nice to hear some of these sounds come out and go somewhere else.

Q What makes a T-Bone project so good? Does he impose a sound on you?

AHe's got it together. When you're in a band, depending on what kind of band you are... when we started, the studio didn't have much to do with anything, it was just a way of documenting what we already do. Along the way, you get off track and start figuring out how to make these recordings sound. He provides a space for somebody like me to go in and allows me to worry about what I want to worry about, which is how to make these songs as tight as they can be and as strong as they can be. He's got a way of just lifting everyone in the room to their highest standards.

Q How did Neko Case get on board with this?

AWe knew we wanted backgrounds and we knew we wanted it to be a woman, and T-Bone first mentioned her and I thought, ''Well, certainly a great idea.'' I doubted she was going to have time to do everything I was hoping, which was a full record, and not stop by for an afternoon. I wanted somebody to be a part of the band.

Q Were you a big fan of hers?

AOh yeah, she's not like anyone else right now. She's kind of on her own plane.

Q What is it like taking this out on the road now? How is the sound different from the record?

AWell, the record is a starting point. That's the starting point and the template from what we began with in rehearsals. I'm actually going out with Neko and her band. I don't take the records preciously, that you're supposed to reproduce those. I don't think people really care about that that much. But it's a template and you gotta start somewhere. We've only done a handful of shows and we'll let them breathe and go wherever they want to go.

Q Do you mix up Jakob Dylan and Wallflowers songs?

AIt's one and the same if you ask me. Not a lot of difference. I'm not precious about it and I don't think my band would feel different about that. If they're out there somewhere this weekend, they're welcome to play them too. I wrote them but we share them. We're just going to find whatever songs I've written that sound good in a hour and half show.

Q Hate to bring up your dad, but it sounds like the approach he takes, that a record doesn't have to be a manifesto. Do you think that was his approach as well?

A Well, the way I make records, and a lot of people do as well, these are decisions you make on any one given day for a lot of different reasons. It seems absurd that you have to feel that you signed a contract to play them that way. They're songs and hopefully they're alive and have a life of their own. And they should be played out in flex. But that being said, the records I make and would like to make, I don't overthink them that way and I want them to be decisions for that day and then I want the songs to be what is more important later. Is it a similar approach to what he does? Possibly. I'd be foolish as well as anyone else would be to not being paying attention if that's a lesson to be learned.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Scott Mervis is a writer for the Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: smervis@post-gazette.com.



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