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POP MUSIC

Record Rack

*** DAVE MATTHEWS BAND, "Before These Crowded Streets," RCA

April 26, 1998|Marc Weingarten

For an artist whose last two studio albums have sold a combined 9 million copies, Dave Matthews is fairly unorthodox in his musical approach. He rarely writes anything in standard 4/4 time; there's very little electric guitar to be found on any of his albums, although you can certainly find plenty of violin and soprano sax; and no sing-along choruses can be plucked for mass delectation.

Matthews and his band have staked out a niche by reaching out to music fans who long for muscular musicianship fused to buoyant pop craft. On this album, the band places an even higher premium on musical proficiency. Songs such as "Rapunzel" and "The Stone" are built around vertiginous polyrhythms and serpentine riffs that dart around Matthew's clenched vocals, yet always manage to lock into an enjoyable groove.

Not everything clicks here; songs such as "The Stone" and "The Dreaming Tree" veer dangerously close to Grover Washington Jr., neo-fusion territory. Still, it's hard to find fault with Matthews, as so many have, just because he dares to be both musically ambitious and crowd-pleasing. He has never reconciled those two impulses as effectively as he does on this album.

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