If you’re a struggling singer-songwriter, your journey to success can be pretty rough. It can be made even more so if you’re already related to a highly respected songwriter, thus raising both the public’s expectations as well as their hesitation. The leader of the Wallflowers knew this, and to his credit, Jakob Dylan has never capitalized on having Peter Himmelman as his brother-in-law.
The band emerged in the wake of the “jam band” explosion of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, where lots of long-haired, tie-dyed skinny white kids—like Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, Blues Traveler and the Spin Doctors—tried to recapture the Woodstock vibe. The Wallflowers were the only ones with an actual birthright to the hippy-dippy sound; naturally their self-titled debut album sold zero copies. Still, they toured like all hungry bands do, opening up for the likes of 10,000 Maniacs and, yes, the Spin Doctors. Their sets were peppered with such covers as Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” and The Band’s “The Weight”, but the highlight was the then-unrecorded “6th Avenue Heartache”, which, lacking the mixed-too-loud harmonies by the guy from Counting Crows, sounded so much better than the version that would sell six million copies of their next album, four years later.
But back in 1992, they couldn’t get arrested, despite a CD with a fresh, live sound, and some pretty decent tunes that betray a distinct Springsteen influence. Piano and organ compete for space under mostly clean guitars in a live mix. One exception would be the single, a nasty little tune called “Ashes To Ashes” anchored by an insistent wah-wah and a lyric we hope isn’t about any actual person.
The other songs aren’t trifles either. Most pass the five-minute mark, and even the seven-, eight- and nine-minute songs are infused with such dynamics that they aren’t at all tedious. On the contrary; “Hollywood” follows a familiar yet fresh chord sequence, and both “Somebody Else’s Money” and “Honeybee” provide intriguing journeys.
The Wallflowers is still in print, though it seems to have been disowned by even its own creator. It may not have the corporate, calculated sound of their more successful albums, but it’s an unjustly overlooked gem that can be easily found on eBay for about a buck.
The Wallflowers The Wallflowers (1992)—3½