Shy of the Moon: The Wallflowers at 30

Why the studio debut from the Jakob Dylan-led roots rockers deserves a second spin

The Wallflowers 1992 publicity photo (Image: Virgin Records)

When your last name is Dylan, one might reasonably expect that success is all but assured.

Nevertheless, Jakob Dylan went through the same scenario that most musicians do when hoping to find some sort of clear route to fame and/or fortune. And like most others, inevitability was never assured. 

Dylan’s initial musical vehicle arrived in the form of a band that went by the unlikely name of The Apples. However, after sharpening their licks on the local L.A. club circuit during the late ‘80s, the band — then consisting of Dylan on vocals, guitar and piano, Barrie Maguire on bass and backing vocals, drummer Peter Yanowitz, Rami Jaffe on keys and Tobi Miller playing guitars and singing harmonies — opted for the more viable handle, The Wallflowers, perhaps inspired by Jakob’s dad’s song of the same name. 

Their eponymous debut album, released on Virgin Records on August 24, 1992, proved problematic from the beginning given that the band was intent on recording live and eschewing any major studio additives. Dylan himself was quoted as saying, “If I could have had it my way I would not have seen a microphone or a cable anywhere.”

It was unclear as to how he hoped to accomplish his mission, but he continued to persevere.

As a result, finding a producer willing to take on the project proved to be a challenge until Paul Fox agreed to participate. Fox, whose credits included Robyn Hitchcock, Semisonic, Edwin McCain, Grant Lee Buffalo, 10000 Maniacs, XTC, Phish and Gene Loves Jezebel, did an admirable job in paring the music down to the basics. 

The Wallflowers The Wallflowers, Virgin Records 1992

Consisting entirely of Dylan compositions the band had been performing live for some time, The Wallflowers was an ideal showcase for the drive and drama that was such an inherent part of their MO. The drawl and sprawl of opening track “Shy of the Moon,” the dire determination shared in “Somebody Else’s Money” and “Another One in the Dark,” the compelling urgency of songs such as “Sugarcoat” and “Ashes To Ashes,” and the reflection and repose conveyed through “Hollywood,” “Be Your Only Girl,” and “Side Walk Annie” made an immediate and emphatic impression.

The band toured relentlessly on the heels of the album’s release, but sadly all the activity didn’t give the effort any traction. Although the reviews were generally glowing, Virgin considered The Wallflowers a severe disappointment given its tepid sales, and shortly thereafter the group and the label amicably parted ways. Listening to the album 30 years later, there’s an earthiness to these songs that resonate in a way not unlike his father’s work with The Band on 1974’s Planet Waves

Better luck would come in the years that followed. The follow-up effort, Bringing Down the Horse, proved to be the biggest seller of their career, and the album after that, (Breach) yielded “Sleepwalker,” the band’s first — and only — single to breach Billboard’s Hot 100. They also garnered two Grammys in 1998 — one for Best Rock Performance for a Duo or Group and the other for Best Song, courtesy of “One Headlight,” another single from their sophomore set. 

Nevertheless, a string of defections eventually resulted in a completely fractured line-up that left Dylan the band’s only constant. A formal hiatus transpired, but eventually Dylan revived the Wallflowers name, resulting in the 2012 comeback effort Glad All Over and, nearly a decade later, last year’s impressive Exit Wounds.

Hopefully the progress will continue, and Bob’s boy will continue to reap the rewards he’s so decidedly due. Especially when it comes to this first Wallflowers album, which deserves a second spin. 

 

 You May Also Like

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.