Dave Matthews combines old and new in latest album

by Sarah Rubenstein | 5/6/98 5:00am

One reason the Dave Matthews Band has not come and gone like groups such as Hootie and the Blowfish is that it does not do the same thing over and over again.

Their new album, "Before These Crowded Streets" is proof of their versatility along with their ability to retain their popular traits.

Dave Matthews' voice, the complex beat, extended instrumental solos and the usual evolution of the album are all there as usual -- but with the twist of funky additions in the background and variations in genres within the songs.

The album shows that the Dave Matthews Band of old is capable of retaining its identity while avoiding lame reproductions of their classic albums "Under the Table and Dreaming" and "Crash." Although not as good as these past albums, this latest effort has enough of the old to keep fans happy and enough of the new to keep them on their toes.

Throughout "Crowded Streets," the band weaves Dave Matthews' voice in and out of constantly changing melodies and beats, as he sings about topics including war, greed and especially love.

It opens with a 37-second song that immediately draws the listener in. "Pantala Naga Pampa" is an upbeat and light melody with a few lyrics, in which Dave Matthews encourages the listener to "Come and relax now, put your troubles down/No need to bear the weight of your worries/let them all fall away."

The opening continues with a short dramatic pause and an immediate jump into new energetic song called "Rapunzel."

And by that time, the listener is hooked.

"Rapunzel" is a quintessential Dave Matthews Band song. It has an intricate beat that keeps listeners off balance as they hear the lead singer move back and forth between two melodic moods within the track, often with the repetitive sounds of a fiddle in the background.

The song ends with an extended saxophone solo, along with a snippet of somebody on the phone with other funky noises in the background.

The band follows "Rapunzel" with "The Last Stop," a tune that shows just how much the band did not want their new album to sound like "Under the Table and Dreaming" or "Crash." The song has an Eastern European minor background as Dave Matthews sings in an angry and gruff manner about his fury at hatred, war and blind killing.

While the song is repetitive and Dave Matthews' angry ranting gets annoying, there are some cool dramatic pauses that lead into new sections.

The band again experiments at the end of the song with some neat instrumental effects and even the sudden sound of a banjo, making the song oddly country-esque at the end.

Dave Matthew's decision to periodically rant rather than sing hurts the effect of a few of the tracks. While "Don't Drink the Water" and "Halloween" both have their interesting sections, his voice diminishes their quality.

One of the most bizarre songs on the album is the fifth track, "Stay (Wasting Time)." It opens like a normal, upbeat melody --one that has probably ended up on pop radio stations around the country.

But then the listener hears this odd female chorus in the background, like something out of "Sister Act" or an Aretha Franklin album. "Stay (Wasting Time)" is a lot of fun, and the chorus adds a tongue-in-cheek element that makes it very humorous.

The band also opens "The Stone" with some guest musicians. This time, the Kronos string quartet grabs the listener's attention with 20th-century-styled classical music, leading into one of the band's trademark beats.

The album evolves in the way that most of the band's work does. The tracks become progressively longer and more laid back, and include more and more improvisational instrumental solos.

One of the best things about Dave Matthews Band is that their music is an entire experience. The listener has so many things to hear and focus on -- the voice, background and beat are rarely just simple and stagnant.

With the exception of the first song, the tracks on "Before These Crowded Streets" are particularly long. Seven of them are about 7 or 8 minutes, and the rest are at least 5 minutes long. This gives each song a lot of room to evolve and change, and the listener can just relax and listen.

But even the last track, called "Spoon" has some unique sounds --most prominently, the guest vocals of Alanis Morisette, who also sings in "Don't Drink the Water."

The end, despite it's predictability, is a nice touch, since it sounds nothing like the beginning of the song, and it closes with some high pitched sounds that are just one more cool effect.