“Boring” is the sort of adjective used by music snobs (hi there!) to describe the Wallflowers, the band who brought Jakob Dylan’s hoarse and unexcitable voice into the mainstream. Said snobs are currently having their day, I suppose, with anomalous, Brooklyn-centric anti-music dominating a large percentage of alterna-mainstream real estate.
But all that wack-ass indie weirdness obscures the point that simple songwriting and performance — I’m talking the whittled-down, bare-as-fuck variety — is damn hard to do well. Women + Country, Dylan’s second solo album, illustrates this point, and it also demarcates the fine line between boring and deliberate. This is an understated, deceptively plain collection of songs, rich with big-think calm (“Nothing But the Whole Wide World,” “Holy Rollers for Love”), New Orleans dust bunnies (“Lend a Hand,” “Standing Eight Count”), and cumulus dream folk (“Down on Our Own Shield,” “We Don’t Live Here Anymore”).
Producer T-Bone Burnett is Jacques Tourneur to Dylan’s Robert Mitchum, with usual suspects drummer Jay Bellerose, pedal-steel player Greg Leisz, and skronkmeister Marc Ribot darting in and out of the noirish shadows while Neko Case and Kelly Hogan provide ghostly back-up-singer accents. Women + Country sets the standard for new-century conformist rock — a genre far less boring than that phrase might suggest.