Thursday, February 10, 2005

"All Along the Watchtower" by the Dave Matthews Band

Original by Bob Dylan
From an unreleased live album

A simple song to analyze harmonically, with there only being three chords: am, GM and fm repeated over and over again. The entrance is slow and methodical, outlining the chords, introducing each one as it flows into the other. Upstrokes create a small rhythmic motion, while slight variations in strumming pattern and an occasional non-chord tone keep the ear interested. After an 8 bar opening we hear Dave's unique voice warbling out the first verse. In the background a single singer drifts in and out of harmony. The song meanders somewhat, like a person telling a story but being careful not to reveal too much. Down strokes and cutting drum and saxophone blasts accent "no reason to get excited" in an ironic twist. Dave sings the song with a strange harshness to his voice despite the mellow tempo, hinting at what is to come. As the line "the hour is getting late" is sung, everything drops out for a measure before it all comes crashing down. At this point we double our original tempo, add a cacophony of saxophone and violin tremolo and a crash of drums and cymbals as we dive headfirst into the chorus. Dave's voice has lost any sense of sweetnees and takes on a growl. He almost spits out the words, driving higher and higher to accentuate the wind beginning to howl. After this thrilling climax we come back to just a simple drum beat and bass outlining the chords. Now we head into the jam band aspect, with each instrument taking their shot at a variation on the melody. The saxophone squeals and honks as if the wind itself was flowing through it, just howling out it's own tune. Suddenly a strange sound comes out of nowhere. Boyd Tinsley on his electric violin floats out a smooth but rhythmic pizzicato of pearl drops. The contrasting styles really play on the duality of the piece, both the easy verse and a frantic chorus. The band really has a great feel for the piece, as we end, the guitar has a quick solo before Dave's voice comes back for a final chorus, weary and remniscant of the ending of Stairway to Heaven. it seems as a catharsis has been reached, as we slowly float away to nothing but the final cheers of the crowd.

One of the first songs I ever learned to play on guitar, very easy, but has an air of mysticism surrounding it. I've never heard the same interpretation twice, as both the words, tempo, and style can each be taken rather liberally. This version is a great version to lsiten to when you just want to trash around the dorm room for a while.

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