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The Dave Matthews Band were the definitive post-grunge supergroup. Their cult following grew so large it became enveloped by the mainstream. With small steps and Clintonian patience, the DMB released album upon album and toured relentlessly, one day finding their quirky world-flavored alterna-folk "crashing" into triple-platinum sales and their jazzy, improv-heavy live shows making them the nation's top-grossing concert act.

When the biggest band of an era takes three years between studio albums, it is their special curse to see rumors pile up as anticipation mounts. So let's start with the misconception checklist: That this is the album where the DMB morphs from sophisticated jamming to slick pop; that they've handed their fate over to hitmaker-for-hire Glen Ballard; that their rootsy sound has gone electric; that you'll hear every member sing. There's a grain of truth to each claim, but the band's usual mountains of surprise counter it on Everyday.

The song-structures might be slightly more compact, but they're just as ambitious as ever. This band has made a career out of going head to head with its own image; no one who heard them vary their recipe with death-metal growling and a banjo sideman on the last studio album, Before These Crowded Streets, should be shocked to see them try short ballads and pop keyboards on this one. Still, the DMB can be counted on to make departure after departure without abandoning the integrity that makes them who they are more than any particular sound.

As to the Ballard factor, though he shares a songwriting credit on every tune, the generally stylish and edgy material confirms that the producer (most famous for masterminding Alanis Morissette's superstardom) brings out the best in his collaborators rather than overpowering them with his ideas.

Matthews play more electric guitar than ever, but amidst the band's teamwork aesthetic it's just more broadening of their sonic palette. And yes, each member technically sings at one point or another (mostly backup), but it's best to take in their usual instrumental brilliance and not get ear-strain searching for their voices.

These and other rumors ignored, you're free to enjoy the DMB's regularly scheduled triumph. The modern-rock guitar crunch and vaguely Mersey beat underpinnings of the lead-off hit, "I Did It," signal how much there is to delve through here. The title track is a chiming, exhilarating, blues and gospel-tinged celebration; the album's most stunning hybrid, "Fool to Think," is an acrobatic circular rhythm driven by a spacey synthesized violin, fluttering jazz sax and groaning heavy guitar.

Always a democratic forum for shining soloists, on "Mother Father" the DMB steps back so far for guests Carlos Santana and his percussionist Karl Perazzo that the track sounds more like Santana than most of Supernatural. Needless to say for the horizon-crossing artists united here, the alt-Latin experiment works quite well. Similarly, the band navigates its inevitable entry into electronica territory with elegance and agility on "What You Are," dynamically contrasting machine textures with soaring vocals and organic jam detours.

For all its innovations, the album also delivers some state-of-the art trademarks. The DMB specialize in signifying our hurried lives and stolen moments of contemplation by switching tongue-twisting vocal rushes with slow stretches of drawn-out yearning; the alternately fevered and placid "Dreams of Our Fathers" is a prime example, though its icy electro-pop fade-out seems tacked-on and self-conscious.

The unusual blend of intense but unthreatening sexuality that has made the band’s fanbase uncommonly gender-balanced is displayed again on the ethereal lost-love confessional "Sleep to Dream Her" and on "Angel," a head-swaying ballad with a sublimely light touch (if a stylistically confused chorus). And the DMB's believable brand of optimism is exemplified on "So Right," an upbeat anthem whose driven vocal and throaty sax supply just enough grit to imply that the band doesn't ignore life's hardships while insisting on its joys.

The DMB improve with each album, and there's room for more here: "The Space Between" slips from drama to schmaltz; one longs for ingenious violinist Boyd Tinsley to have as wide a spotlight as virtuoso sax/flute/clarinet player Leroi Moore (definitely Everyday's instrumental star); and Ballard's preference for abrupt endings, while energizing most of the album, disserves the closing jam of the title track, which calls for a bigger finish. But the Dave Matthews Band is more about great beginnings anyway, and this album's musical rebirth is yet another one.

-- Adam McGovern --