I completely missed the release of Exit Wounds, the new album by Jacob Dylan’s band project The Wallflowers, even though I had heard of it back in May. I also don’t recall seeing it in Apple Music’s new releases on July 9 when it appeared – very strange! Well, I’m glad I finally came across it over the weekend.
The first new Wallflowers album in nine years features melodic roots rock and a warm sound. In many ways, Exit Wounds feels like it could have been the follow on to Bringing Down the Horse from May 1996, the sophomore album by Dylan’s band that brought commercial success and two Grammy awards. The one big difference is there are no obvious hits like One Headlight and my favorite, 6th Avenue Heartache. Still, after having listened to the 10 tracks a few times, I find this new album pretty enjoyable.
Produced by Butch Walker, who has worked with Avril Lavigne, Taylor Swift, Green Day and many other artists over the past 20-plus years, Exit Wounds is only the seventh studio album by The Wallflowers in three decades. Initially formed as The Apples in 1989 by Dylan and his childhood friend and guitarist Tobi Miller, the band changed their name to The Wallflowers in 1991. After six studio albums and a series of line-up changes, Dylan turned The Wallflowers into a project in 2013, relying on hired musicians for his recurring tours.
Why did it take nine years since Glad All Over from October 2012 to make a new Wallflowers album? “When you get started, you feel you’re going to lose traction and it will all slip away if you don’t keep maintaining it,” Dylan told Spin during a recent interview conducted as part of a major feature story. “That phase passes at some point, and then you have a career, and you can make records when you’re inspired.”
As the Spin story rightfully adds, there was also the 2018 documentary Echo in the Canyon, for which Dylan was the executive producer and interviewed artists like Roger McGuinn, Brian Wilson, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and Tom Petty – apparently, a close to four-year engagement from start to finish! Last but not least, Dylan had actually written the songs for Exit Wounds prior to the pandemic and wrapped up the recording more than a year ago, but decided to hold the album’s release.
Time for some music. Here’s the opener Maybe Your Heart’s Not in It No More, a nice mellow tune and one of three tracks featuring singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne on backing vocals. I think her and Dylan’s voices blend beautifully. The reflective and downcast lyrics represent most of the album. “We all have exit wounds as much as ever,” Dylan explained to Spin. “Whether we’re going to a better place or making a lateral move, we can’t get there from here without them.”
Roots and Wings is among my early favorites. The tune was also released separately as the album’s lead single on April 9, peaking at no. 6 on Billboard’s Triple A Airplay, aka Adult Alternative Airplay – frankly, a chart I had not been aware of. Who can keep track of Billboard’s seemingly ever-expanding charts. A review by Riff Magazine calls the sound “Springsteen-esque” and notes the harmony vocals were provided by Butch Walker. Which ever way you want to characterize it, the song is one of two tracks I find most memorable.
Darlin’ Hold On is another mellow tune that features Shelby Lynne sharing vocal duties with Dylan. In this case, beyond backing vocals, she also gets to sing a verse by herself. Quite pleasant.
And since I really dig how Dylan’s and Lynne’s vocals blend, here’s the third track featuring her on backing vocals: I’ll Let You Down (But Will Not Give You Up).
Let’s do one more: Who’s That Man Walking ‘Round My Garden, my favorite tune on the album at this time. Dylan explained to Spin the rocker is an homage to Tom Petty. Evidently, the two of them had bonded. The above noted conversation for the Echo in the Canyon documentary was Petty’s last on-camera interview prior to his death. “‘Who’s That Man’ is a straight-up tribute to Tom Petty, his music, and his style, and I hope he notices somewhere. I can’t say enough about his positivity and encouragement. It was very moving to have him pass, and it affected me greatly, so there are moments of not just influence, but a tip of my hat in appreciation that I hope he’ll hear.”
While I’m not sure I would have picked up on the Tom Petty influence, I kind of wish Dylan had included one or two additional more up-tempo rockers on the album. Most of the remaining tracks fall on the mellow side. After a while, this can get a bit repetitive.
A few words about the other musicians on Exit Wounds, based on the Spin story: Apart from backing vocals, Walker contributed guitar, keyboard and percussion. Additional musicians included Aaron Embry (keyboards), Val McCallum (guitar), Whynot Jansveld (bass, mastering) and Mark Stepro who played drums on all but one track that featured Brian Griffin.
Except for McCallum, which Spin noted played on The Wallflowers’ fourth album Red Letter Days from November 2002, Dylan put together an entire new band to record Exit Wounds. Given that, it’s kind of remarkable how much it resembles The Wallflowers in the ’90s. “It was important for me to make a pure Wallflowers record,” Dylan emphasized during his interview with Spin. Making it clear he’s always been in charge, he added, “I started this band. This is my band. It doesn’t matter who is or who isn’t around anymore.”
The Wallflowers will do a U.S. tour starting next month. The 20-date engagement will kick off in New Braunfels, Texas (San Antonio area) on August 18 and wrap up in Nashville on November 20. Starting in May 2022, The Wallflowers are also scheduled to tour the U.S. and Canada for three months, together with Matchbox Twenty. The current schedules for both tours are here.
Sources: Wikipedia; Spin; Riff Magazine; Jambase; YouTube