More than the icon with whom he shares a surname, Jakob Dylan's true musical progenitor may well be his biological father's former Traveling Wilburys teammate Tom Petty. For years, each has reliably crafted guitar- and organ-based radio-ready rock and roll, delivered with a lived-in, innately distinctive voice and a skilled but nearly anonymous backing band. Petty waited seven albums before sneaking away with former ELO Svengali Jeff Lynne to record his first official solo release, Full Moon Fever — a collection stylistically similar to his Heartbreakers outings and, significantly, the best-selling album of his career. Jakob Dylan won't face the same problem.
Seeing Things, his first solitary walk after five Wallflowers albums, won't be mistaken for another band release. Just as he steered Johnny Cash 14 years ago, producer Rick Rubin strips Dylan's plaintive sound like so much peeling paint. True, several songs offer accompaniment — some light percussion here, a doubled vocal there — but more often, flat-picked acoustic guitar strings squeak against fingers, suggesting an otherwise empty room. This is not quite the irreparable realization found in another stark landscape, Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. But with such world-weary choruses as "Evil Is Alive and Well" and "Everybody Pays as They Go," it isn't an invitation to sing along either. Except perhaps in exhausted empathy.