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Matthews shows a darker side; RCA's "Streets" set departs from core sound

March 18th, 1998

By CARRIE BORZILLO - Billboard

btcs.jpgDave Matthews may have seemed fairly mild-mannered on his band's previous albums, but with the April 28 release of ``Before These Crowded Streets'' on RCA, he gives fans a glimpse of his brooding, more intense side.

"Yeah, it's definitely a lot darker,'' says the South African born/Virginia-based singer/guitarist/songwriter about the project. "The only song that is happy is `Stay,' but it's still a desperate-sounding song."

While not exactly indicative of the entire album, three songs on the set display a surprising departure from the band's core sound. On them,Matthews works himself into a powerful, emotional, almost maddened frenzy unlike anything he's done before live or on disc. They are the first single, the hypnotic ``Don't Drink The Water''; the Middle Eastern-influenced ``The Last Stop''; and ``Halloween,'' on which Matthews does his best Vincent Price voice.

The former two's lyrics are also more political than the band has allowed itself to be in the past, while yet another song, ``The Dreaming Tree,'' shows Matthews' growth as a storyteller.

``Don't Drink The Water,'' which will be downloaded via satellite to all radio formats April 10, is about Matthews' disgust over how this country's land was taken from the Indians.

``It's the voice of this fellow who comes to a place where he thinks his dreams can come true,'' explains Matthews. ``He found this paradise; the only problem is he has some very good ideas about this paradise, but there's someone who is already here and they don't fit into his idea of paradise, so he asks them to go away. But at the end, the character is screaming about having to live with what he's done.''

This is the first Dave Matthews Band album in which the new material has not been road-tested. The exception is ``Don't Drink The Water,'' which was played in an entirely different incarnation during the encores of some shows.

``All of these songs are fresh. Playing them live, if you do that long enough, they take a turn for the happy,'' says Matthews, possibly explaining why some of the material has a darker tone. ``This album is less ambiguous, more connected. And there's a little more focused reflection on this album than there has been on others, whether that's good or bad. The lyrics and music seemed to happen much more together; it's more like a project from beginning to end rather than a collection of songs.''

1998, album review, articlesdbtp