Dave Matthews was right when he described “Big Whiskey” as a record that “doesn't apologize.” With this effort, the band held no bars and left no stone unturned. The album boasts incredibly diverse sounds, representing everything from the back streets of New Orleans in “Alligator Pie,” to an almost Jimi Hendrix-like feel in “Seven.” The fact that one production successfully merged such divergent musical genres is a stunning accomplishment, even for the Dave Matthews Band.
After hearing all 12 of the new tracks, I think it's safe to say that the underlying themes of this work are sex and love, death, and searching. The first voice that we hear is LeRoi's with the “Grux” intro, a smooth, soulful tribute leading directly into the high energy, sex-infused, “Shake Me Like a Monkey.” Both “Shake Me Like a Monkey,” and “Seven,” exude a highly charged sensuality, while “Spaceman,” “My Baby Blue,” and “You and Me,” have more of a romantic, love-struck consistency. One of the messages that comes through in this compilation is the idea that outside of love, nothing makes sense. And even love can turn you upside down and make “the floor the ceiling,” according to “Lying in the Hands of God.” We hear an attempt to understand the ways of the world in “Funny the Way It Is,” and “Why I Am,” with a resignation that we are not in control in “Dive In.” I see “Dive In” as a direct reference to global warming, and “Alligator Pie” relating to the trauma of Hurricane Katrina that ripped through New Orleans in 2005. The album seems to offer at least two solutions to all of this uncertainty; fly away, as mentioned in “My Baby Blue,” “Time Bomb,” and “You and Me,” or be kind to each other and wash away the illusion that differences between us matter, as proposed in “Squirm.” In fact, “Squirm” may be the most unapologetic track, both in its clear challenge to conventional beliefs and its eccentric melody.
Aside from the profound themes brought forth in these songs, there is another undeniably DMB quality that comes through like lightning. I've said before that I admire the band's ability to honor both the darkness and the light with their lyrics. In “Big Whiskey,” I feel that many of the tunes radiate a paradoxical essence between the content and the music itself. For example, both “Dive In,” and “Alligator Pie” tackle such consequential issues as global warming, natural disasters, and losing everything, all delivered with happy and upbeat rhythms. Similarly, “Squirm” teaches unity and all-encompassing kindness through possibly the hardest rock we've heard from this group to date. This type of inclusion where every single piece embraces multiple ways of being is expansive. It grows our minds and affects us at many levels of consciousness. It even has a girl who was raised Jewish singing, “I wanna believe in Jesus!” Now that's transformative.
Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.
Author of Serendipity and the Search for True Self
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