Has it really been twenty years since The Wallflowers released Bringing Down the Horse?
It almost seems hard to believe. Bringing Down the Horse was a key album of the mid-90s and a breakthrough for a band that previously had best been known for having the “Son of Bob” as its frontman. While not a carbon copy of his father, Jakob Dylan bore enough resemblance to him, both physically and vocally. That both drew interest and restrained the younger Dylan’s career early on.
Bringing Down the Horse was a major step forward, for both the band and its leader. A multi-platinum smash that produced a quartet of cross-genre rock and pop hits, the album epitomized mid-90s Alternative. It’s four singles were a good primer on the sounds and approaches of the time and The Wallflowers embodied each with ease.
Folk-influenced roots rock was a natural. Lead single “6th Avenue Heartache” was steeped in folk influences, but given more weight with a sturdy beat and subtle blues influences. “Three Marlenas” took a similar tack, but worked in shrewdly deployed Spanish accents instead. “One Headlight” was the album’s biggest hit, a mid-tempo rock song that fit securely into the lo-fi, rhythmic Alternative style of the era. “The Difference” was a harder hitting rock song that championed an organic approach, achieving a muscular result without sacrificing melody.
Those songs provided a strong foundation for Bringing Down the Horse and the rest of the album worked in similar veins. Contemporized folk influences informed gentler cuts like “Josephine,” “Invisible City” and the country-tinged set closer “I Wish I Felt Nothing.” “Bleeders” and “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls” fit the of-the-moment mid-tempo Alternative ethos. And “Laughing Out Loud” and “Angel on My Bike” fit the organic rock mold, smoothly melding strong beats with memorable melodies. With effortless diversity, inspired performances and Dylan’s strong voice, the album was an easy sell to a diverse audience.
Dylan’s maturation is an important facet of Bringing Down the Horse. The band’s previous album had arrived with little notice and some critics were ready to dismiss the band as another “celebrity kid” vanity project. But Jakob wasn’t a Bob Dylan clone. While similarities were evident, Jakob’s voice proved to be deeper and somewhat more elastic. As a writer, he demonstrated his firm grounding in classic rock and pop melodies and crafted clever lyrics and imaginative imagery without being pretentious or cutesy. By the end of the album, the fact that Jakob Dylan was Bob’s son was no more than an interesting facet of his C.V. and not the whole story.
It would also be a mistake to view Bringing Down the Horse as “Jakob and some other guys.” Dylan, as the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter, got a lot of the attention. But the album benefitted from the tight bonds of the band. Michael Ward shared guitar duties with Dylan, blending flawlessly. In other bands, Rami Jaffee’s keyboard and organ parts would have been buried in the mix. Bringing Down the Horse gave them prominence, as both contrast and compliment to the guitar lines. The rhythm section of bassist Greg Richling and drummer Mario Calire gave the album a firm rhythmic bedrock that added energy and dynamism to even the gentler folk-driven cuts, while really driving the harder-edged tracks. The Wallflowers were a strong unit and it showed on each track, with classic production designed for the long haul.
Bringing Down the Horse was a key ’90s album that’s held up quite well. If The Wallflowers’ run as hitmakers didn’t last very long beyond this album, it remains a strong legacy for the band.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on May 24, 2016.