The Lillywhite Sessions is the greatest album Dave Matthews Band never made. Or released, actually. Named after producer Steve Lillywhite (the man behind the boards on Crash and Before These Crowded Streets), an alcoholic Dave Matthews and his frustrated band recorded twelve songs and called it quits. The demos leaked onto the Internet and were immediately embraced by the fan community; if you were in a college dorm in 1999, you’ve heard these.
The sessions were overlooked by critics (Rolling Stone and Spin gave them middling reviews), but then again, DMB has never been a critic’s band. This time around, though, they deserved the praise. Instrumentally, the group is at its absolute peak, and the jams actually have purpose and direction. Matthews himself has never been more emotional or forthright in his songwriting and singing. The pain in his voice in “Grace is Gone” is palpable, as is the desperation of the lyrics of “Bartender” or the jubilant strumming of “JTR.” Despite the band’s (or just as likely, the record label’s) concerns, this is a great album: raw, inspired, and full of passion.
The band went on to flame out completely with pop disaster Everyday, and their revisitations of these songs on Busted Stuff felt rushed and lifeless. While Matthews has written a pair of great songs recently in “You Never Know” and “Stay or Leave,” the band has yet to even come close to matching this material.
The Canon, Examined is a continuing series spotlighting the finest records to ever slip through the cracks. Previously: Grant-Lee Phillips / Beachwood Sparks / Natalie Imbruglia / Lullaby For The Working Class