Perhaps realizing that the time was right for a change, the Dave Matthews Band took the unusual step of hooking up with a hip-hop producer—Mark Batson, who’s worked with the likes of Beyoncé and G-Unit—to take over the reigns on their sixth studio release, Stand Up, and while it might seem like an unlikely pairing, it actually works. The signature DMB jazz-rock sound still dominates, but touches of soul and funk find their way into songs like “You Might Die Trying” and “Old Dirt Hill (Bring That Beat Back).” It’s nice to see Matthews and his bandmates embrace their funky side, one that comes out frequently in their 15-minute onstage jams, but hasn’t been seen much in their studio work. The new sound is especially refreshing given that the band had been steadily drifting into adult contemporary territory in recent years with soft-pop snoozers like “Where Are You Going” and “The Space Between.” Stand Up all but makes that a distant memory.
More than usual, this is truly a band effort. “American Baby,” the album’s lead single, is one of the group’s most energetic pop songs in recent memory, powered by the violin plucking of band member Boyd Tinsley. Carter Beauford and Stefan Lessard’s rhythm section guides “Smooth Rider,” while Leroi Moore’s breezy sax highlights the gorgeous ballad “Stolen Away On 55th & 3rd.” Though Matthews himself has always been a better lyricist than people give him credit for, here he’s content to let his words take a backseat to the music. “Stand Up (For It)” has the potential to become a call to action of some sort, but it never does, mostly because the lyrics consist of little more than the song title repeated over and over, while “Louisiana Bayou” is a danceable, bass-heavy romp with words that are difficult to understand and don’t make a whole lot of sense. Yet both of these songs succeed because the grooves are irresistible.
Following up on their appearance on the Vote for Change tour, the band gets political on “Everybody Wake Up,” an overtly anti-war anthem that chastises “the man with the bomb in his hands,” and there are a couple of similar references throughout the album, but much of the lyrical content on Stand Up is rather lightweight. Though none of the recorded versions of the songs here seem worthy of joining DMB’s list of classics, they’re playful and engaging enough to become potential live favorites. Stand Up is the band’s most lively album in years, and one of its best.