With a string of live recordings since 2001's controversial Everyday,
the Dave Matthews Band has been grooving in something close to autopilot, more intent on pleasing fans than in stretching out. That M.O. changes significantly on Stand Up,
one of the band's most adventurous efforts, and certainly among the most varied studio sets of their career. For starters, Matthews pumps up the energy level surprisingly often, as on the title track, which uses a martial drumbeat to anchor a bottom end that doesn't politely suggest that folks shake their groove thang but rather forces them onto the dance floor. That's underscored by the agreeably gritty playing of saxophonist Leroi Moore, who also struts his stuff on the hip-hop-tinged "Stolen Away at 55th and 3rd." Some credit must go to producer Mark Batson, who helmed India.Arie's breakthrough, Acoustic Soul,
as well as tracks for Eminem, Beyoncé, Seal, and Sting. But Matthews retains his unique style, making better use of world music elements here than he has in some time, notably on the sensual "Dreamgirl," which employs eerily echoing backing vocals dripping with aboriginal flavor. That song is one of several that let the singer get his mojo working and provide good counterpoint to topical tunes such as the sprawling "American Baby," a life-during-wartime allegory that's preceded by the separate "American Baby" intro, a mélange of mournful piano and sampled gunfire. There's a similar urgency in "Everybody Wake Up (Our Finest Hour Arrives)," a song that also boasts a fascinating (and somewhat jarring) arrangement drawing as much on modern classical music as on anything from the rock idiom. The vibe of Stand Up
is slightly different than the average DMB album, but for those who value a thrill ride as much as a cruise, it's definitely worth buckling up for.