Ryley Walker Credit: Evan Jenkins

A handful of years ago it became socially acceptable for punks and freaks—the types of people who’d spent their entire lives raging against hippies and wooks—to get into the Grateful Dead. I’m guilty of that myself, and with the Dead acting as my gateway drug, I’ve become aware that more and more local weirdos are opening their minds to other alumni of the jam band circuit as well. Any time listeners start exploring different genres, that sort of progression is inevitable, but there’s one act among these groups that’s been picking up way more newfound appreciation than I’d expect: Dave Matthews Band, the musical equivalent of a pair of beige cargo shorts. Earlier this year—after the Bob Weir and Phil Lesh show at the Chicago Theatre, of all places—I ran into Doug Kaplan, who helps run Chicago avant-garde label Hausu Mountain. He described DMB to me as “sick,” further explaining that they essentially sound like “Dream Theater around a campfire.” Another person riding the Dave train these days is experimental-pop-jazz-folk singer and guitarist Ryley Walker, who decided to undertake the bizarre task of covering Dave Matthews Band’s The Lillywhite Sessions—a shelved but widely bootlegged 2001 full-length recorded with producer Steve Lillywhite—from front to back. On paper it’s a hard sell; the last thing I want to do with my time is sit down with 74 minutes of Dave Matthews material. But unsurprisingly Walker—with backing from drummer Ryan Jewell, bassist Andrew Scott Young, and saxophonist Nick Mazzarella—makes the album completely his own. Outside of a couple of slightly too-funky sax parts, The Lillywhite Sessions (Dead Oceans) shows very few signs of Matthews at all; if you didn’t come in knowing these were covers, you might think they were Walker originals. From the raw material, he builds upon the sort of beautiful, cerebral, pastoral prog-jazz and heady drones he utilized on his mind-bending May release, Deafman Glance. Don’t let the stink of Dave put you off—The Lillywhite Sessions is another huge win for Walker in 2018.   v