Exit Wounds proves more rollicking that Dylan’s more introspective solo work, not a full success but still a testament to the easy pleasures of his roots-rock craft.
The existence of a new Wallflowers album — arriving a full nine years after the sleek, vaguely funky Glad All Over — can’t help but raise the question: What’s left to distinguish a Wallflowers recording from one of Jakob Dylan’s solo LPs? Certainly not personnel; Dylan is the only person who’s played on every single Wallflowers album, and he and producer Butch Walker fleshed out Exit Wounds with a gang of studio ringers. Perhaps the distinction is more a matter of vibe. Though there exists no Wallflowers signature sound to speak of, the songs on Exit Wounds benefit greatly from a sinewy full-band sound, pitched somewhere between bar band and heartland rock, and a far cry from the subdued introspection of Dylan’s solo albums. Dylan obviously wanted to make some noise with this one, and he does: The album crescendos with “Who’s That Man Walking ‘Round My Garden,” three minutes of cowbell and pounded pianos, as gloriously trashy and throwaway as anything in his repertoire. And even when Exit Wounds isn’t stirring up a ruckus, it still feels robust and full-bodied; opener “Maybe Your Heart’s Not In it No More” takes its time exploring a spacious groove. It’s also one of several songs here that features prominent harmony vocals from Shelby Lynne, an invaluable and high-profile backup singer.
The album’s loose, leathery sound befits Dylan’s usual world weariness, and it highlights his gift for songs that manage to be unfussy without being bland. He occasionally gestures toward the theatrical —”Move the River” churns with a majestic, E-Street locomotion — but his sweet spot is conveying jadedness and disappointment through simple conceits (the Tom Petty-ish “The Dive Bar in My Heart”) or wry self-deprecation (the singalong “I’ll Let You Down [But I Will Not Give You Up]”). A lot of songs are about lovers who have either parted ways, or at the very least reached the end of their rope, and typically the narrator knows it’s his fault; “the best thing about me is that I used to be yours,” Dylan deadpans, the closest he comes to really cracking a joke. Maybe it’s not a conventional party album, but it is a resounding testament to Dylan’s ability to write about uncertainty and loss from a place of empathy rather than self-pity; and, to the enduring pleasures of his roots-rock craft. With any luck, he’ll pull together some guys to make yet another Wallflowers record before another full decade passes.
Published as part of Album Roundup — July 2021 | Part 1.