Quick Review (LP): John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
John Wesley Harding
Columbia; 1967

My Rating: B (68/100)

Best Tracks: "I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight", "All Along The Watchtower", "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest"

How does the righteous rebel rebel against rebellion?

– He certainly sounds different. That accident must have shook him up.
– According to Wikipedia, recorded in 12 hours over 3 days in Nashville. That’s a quick turnaround.
– Almost had Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson on it.
– "Don’t go mistaking paradise for that home across the road…"
– Stripped down, low key, warm yet shaded.
– It’s interesting how subdued the arrangements are here, especially considering he made Blonde On Blonde, the biggest sounding rock record up to that point, a year earlier.
– Many of the songs feel like he’s pulling up short, like they are sketches. It’s a nice move against his former tendency to almost wear out his welcome.
– This one is steeped in Christian tradition – St. Augustine, the Parable of the Thief, Judas, etc.
– Best track is the closer, "I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight." Love that pedal steel work, and the warmth of the track is simply wonderful.
– I love the fact that Dylan released such a simple folk rock record in the year of the flower people.
– Less verbose and grand, no less eccentric.
– Eh – not sure if this one is as great as everyone seems to think. It’s a nice little record, don’t get me wrong, but I suspect it received such rave reviews because it was Dylan reversing course once more. An anti-hype record. A rebellion against the "Summer of Love" and psychedelia. An agrarian manifesto against the age of Aquarius. Or maybe Bob just wanted to make some country music his own way.

see my other Dylan reviews

Cohesion (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4/5)

Quick Review (LP): If You’re Feeling Sinister by Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian
If You’re Feeling Sinister
Jeepster; 1996

My Rating: A+ (100/100)

Best Tracks: “The Stars of Track and Field”, “Seeing Other People”, “Me and the Major”, “If You’re Feeling Sinister”, “Mayfly”

Pathetic and delicate. Breathtaking, gorgeous, and grand.

– What was I listening to when I first heard this record in 1996? Oh, some Fugazi, some Snapcase, a lot of local hardcore bands with hoarse vocals and dropped-D “chugga chugga” guitars. As a general rule, it had to be distorted, ugly, muscular, and angry. Enter If You’re Feeling Sinister.
– The thing is, the songs here are INCREDIBLE. I mean, every time I hear “The Stars of Track and Field”, I envision these guys filling a stadium with the sounds of trumpets and twinkling pianos.
– That opening piano line on “Seeing Other People” is one of the greatest things ever. It’s got that Charlie Brown sense to it, and that’s about the right starting point for Belle and Sebastian.
I remember watching the cartoon when I was a kid. I’d love to see it again.
– The other thing: this is a great ROCK record. In contrast to their other early albums, this one sounds REALLY powerful. I mean, listen to “Me and the Major” on full blast. It sounds like it would have been at home on The Bends.
– “We’re the younger generation/We grew up fast/All the others did drugs/They’re taking it out on us!”
– The instrumentation is brilliant throughout, right up to the trumpet and recorder fest that ends the album on “Judy and the Dream of Horses.”
– Apparently Murdoch thinks this is his best collection of songs, but doesn’t think they are recorded very well. Perhaps, but I think that lends the record a certain edginess that their other early LPs didn’t have. This sounds pretty punk.
I agree with AMG that logically reducing this album to the perfect blend of The Smiths and Simon & Garfunkel doesn’t really do the album justice, but it’s probably the most accurate short description of this record that I can think of. Oh yeah, and this: “beautifully out of time.”
– Or maybe it’s this: If You’re Feeling Sinister re-defined indie rock.

Cohesion (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Songs (5/5)

My review of Tigermilk

Quick Review (LP): Paper Airplane by Alison Krauss & Union Station

Alison Krauss & Union Station
Paper Airplane
Rounder; 2011

My Rating: C (56/100)

Best Tracks: "Paper Airplane", "Sinking Stone", "My Opening Farewell"

More of the same from Alison & company, which is OK.

– I listen mostly to hipster rock, so listening to new music by the likes of an Alison Krauss or a Mark Knopfler is always an interesting change of pace for me. But then again, Alison is sort of a hipster herself at this point, since she collaborated with T. Bone Burnett and Robert Plant on that grammy winner a few years ago, covers Elvis Costello songs, and collaborates with Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris.
– This sounds very standard for one of their records. That is, the Alison-led songs sound exceedingly lovely, and the Tyminski-led songs are gruffer and a bit more trad Bluegrass.
– It’s pretty much become a formula with Alison’s material. Pleasant, pastoral arrangements with her gorgeous voice right up front in the mix, like she’s your mother rocking you to sleep.
– The chorus (and hook) of "Lay My Burden Down" sounds almost identical to that of "Just Let Me Touch You For A-While." If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess.
– Alison has produced some truly brilliant moments in the past – "Everytime You Say Goodbye", "Broadway", "Baby, Now That I’ve Found You", "Restless", "The Lucky One", "The Scarlet Tide" – unfortunately, there’s nothing that feels truly great here. There are a whole bunch of beautiful songs and lovely performances, but nothing that really demands your attention. More Castleman next time?
– This one could have used some of those mind-blowing instrumentals that the band pulls off so well.
– I’d love something a bit more in the way of a concept from this band. This effort seems very workman like and a bit anonymous. Even a cover record would be great (the cover of Jackson Browne might be the best thing here)! Just something to mix it up.
Thom Jurek of AMG offers a perspective that is certainly counter to mine. He detects a little more of an overarching theme perhaps. I will admit it feels a little too critical to award this less than a B, because when it comes down to it, Union Station is an above average group of musicians on a bad day. Still, this one just wasn’t that interesting for this city slicker.

Cohesion  (4/5)
Concept (3/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Consequence (3/5)
Songs (4/5)

Quick Review (LP): Moment Bends by Architecture In Helsinki

Architecture In Helsinki
Moment Bends
Modular; 2011

My Rating: C (46/100)

Best Tracks: "Desert Island", "W.O.W.", "That Beep"

Electro-pop as an affective disorder.

– Their last album, Places Like This, was pretty good. There was a really nice punk-ish sound there.
– A little more pleasant here, not quite as abrasive.
– "W.O.W." is very nice. Very 80’s, reminiscent of a Cyndi Lauper ballad.
– Poppy, but seems a little vacuous. Where’s the beef?
– I’m sure I’m not the first to realize that these guys are basically a tropics-pop version of The Arcade Fire. Broken Social Scene with a lot more sunshine.
– FWIW, the breakdown in "That Beep" reminds me of the bass-voice Geddy Lee in "Roll The Bones."
– Despite the sheening pop sound, this one is a blah-fest. Check out the tracks I mention, ditch the rest.
Pitchfork was pretty generous to this one. I didn’t find it so deserving. Hope they recover some of the riotous energy and off-the-wall creativity of “Hold Music” and “Heart It Races” next time.

Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (3/5)
Consistency (3/5)
Consequence (3/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

List: My Top 10 Dylan Tracks

Well, everyone else is paying tribute to Robbie Z. on the occasion of his 70th birthday, so I thought I might do so as well. Here it goes…

My Top 10 Bob Dylan Tracks

“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” – 1965 – This is one of the greatest album closers ever. It’s a classic kiss-off in one sense, but what makes it remarkable is the apocalyptic imagery Dylan throws in. Love that noodly guitar too.

”Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” – 1966 – Everything about this song is simply amazing, from the lyrics to the drumming. It just sort of sweeps you up and carries you along on a wave for six or seven minutes.

”Tangled Up In Blue” – 1975 – One of the most beautiful songs ever. I love the way you feel like you’ve completed a journey with Dylan by the time the last verse ends, and then that harmonica kicks in and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Awe inspiring.

”If Not For You” – 1970 – What a great little love song. You gotta dig the arrangement – so 70’s.

“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Greatest Hits Vol. 2 version)” – 1970 – This is Dylan’s goofed-out performance of an already silly song. Roger McGuinn of The Byrds went and butchered the lyrics a few years earlier, and so Dylan sends him up in the first verse. “Oooo-eeee/Ride me high/Tomorrow’s the day my bride’s a-gonna come/Oooo-eeee/Are we gonna fly/Down into the easy chair…”

“She Belongs To Me” – 1965 – “She’s got everything she needs/She’s an artist/She don’t look back…” Absolutely sublime lyrics on this one, the kind of stuff that “stones me to my soul” as Van Morrison would say. The arrangement is so wonderful too. An incontrovertible proof of Dylan’s greatness.

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” – 1965 – “When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez/When it’s Easter time too…” The ragtime riff on that piano is pure genius.

”The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo) (live)” – 1969 – This is Dylan’s performance with The Band at the Isle of Wight festival in 1969. Most people know this song from the Manfred Mann “oldies” version, but Dylan & The Band make this sound  like a blast. It’s sloppy and joyful, almost like a lost take from The Basement Tapes.

“Buckets of Rain” – 1975 – This one brings me to tears just about every time. Again, it’s such a simple song, but the lyric is vintage Dylan – soulful with a little bit of silly thrown in. I can’t help but think of the heartbreak that Dylan was going through at the time.

“Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” – 1962 – I’m generally not a big fan of Dylan’s work prior to Bringing It All Back Home, but this was one of his great early tracks. It’s not a protest song, not even faintly political, but it’s a showcase for the sort of wit that would become a centerpiece of Dylan’s work on later albums. Great finger-picking too. An underrated early pop-folk song.

Check out what else I’ve had to say about Dylan (plenty)…

Honorable Mention:
One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)
Goin’ To Acapulco
I Shall Be Released (Greatest Hits Vol. 2 version)
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
Tomorrow Is A Long Time (live)
Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
Thunder On The Mountain
Tonight, I’ll Be Staying Here With You

Quick Review (LP): Golden Age of Radio by Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter
Golden Age of Radio
Signature; 2002

My Rating: B (72/100)

Best Tracks: "Come And Find Me", "Me & Jiggs", "You’ve Got The Moon", "Leaving", "The Other Side"

– Right off the bat, it’s a giant leap from his debut. "Come And Find Me" is gorgeous.
– These are highly memorable songs, even if the performances sound like Ritter hadn’t quite come into his own as a performer. Despite the great melodies and brilliant lyricism of "Come and Find Me" and "Leaving", the record as a whole feels a bit under-ripe.
– "Drive Away" is overlooked, but it’s got a nice melancholy feel.
– It’s easy to miss this, but the record is pretty well crafted in terms of theme. This is a road record, a starry-eyed vagabond dream.
The AMG review gets it right.
– A sublime live recording of "Golden Age of Radio" exists (you can get it on the Hello Starling deluxe edition), but I’m not a big fan of the studio version here.
DELUXE EDITION HIGHLIGHTS: Ritter re-recorded the entire album in 2008 with only his voice and an acoustic guitar. Given the fact that he had 8 years of additional experience under his belt at that point, most of the performances are far better. He sings in a higher key, and it sounds like he’s lived in these songs and that he has grown with them. "Golden Age of Radio" in particular is revelatory. "Don’t Wake Juniper" is a good b-side. The remixes of "The Other Side" and "Come And Fine Me" are both interesting.

see my other Josh Ritter reviews

Cohesion (4.5/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Idle Labor by Craft Spells

Craft Spells
Idle Labor
Captured Tracks; 2011

My Rating: B (66/100)

Best Tracks: "For The Ages", "Scandinavian Crush", "Party Talk", "After the Moment", "The Fog Rose High". "Beauty Above All"

Mumbly, innocent love songs for bedroom dreamers…

– I will say the vocals are a lot easier to understand on this release than on others of this ilk. Thanks for that.
– Pretty pleasant stuff. Sounds like a kid from a John Hughes movie composing a bedroom project soundtrack to an autobiographical film about his freshman year.
– Wild Nothing is musically better, but I wish this guy sang for Wild Nothing. 
– If Wild Nothing is essentially a bedroom version of The Cure, then this is a bedroom version of Simple Minds.
– So when’s he going to get to the cover of "Take On Me"?
– More New Order than Joy Division. It’s a fun little record.
– Overall, not bad. It’s very "sound" based instead of song-based, and for that reason after about the fourth track the music easily slips into the background. Nothing amazing here, but it ain’t bad either.
The Pitchfork reviewer gets this record: “Idle Labor exists in a time frame best described by the title of its ebullient centerpiece– "After the Moment". These are sketches of romantic problems and solutions with the wounds still fresh and the thoughts uncensored. Taken as a whole, it could be read as a narrative following Vallesteros from heartbreak to infatuation and back, a few months’ worth of romantic uncertainty boiled down to a taut and hooky album.”

Concept (4/5)
Cohesion (5/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4/5)

Quick Review (LP): The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan & The Band

Bob Dylan & The Band
The Basement Tapes
Columbia; 1975

My Rating: A (90/100)

Best Tracks: "Orange Juice Blues", "Million Dollar Bash", "Yazoo Street Scandal", "Goin’ to Acapulco", "Ain’t No More Cane", "You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere", "Don’t Ya Tell Henry", "Open The Door, Homer", "Wheel’s On Fire"

It’s all so weird, so gloriously weird…

– Though released in 1975, most of these recordings occurred in 1967, before Dylan recorded John Wesley Harding and leading up to The Band’s release of Music From Big Pink. It’s a pivotal set of tracks, a secret document of some recording sessions that changed rock and roll forever. It’s also a nice excuse to start reviewing The Band’s records.
– By the way, Garth Hudson is a genius. Just sayin’, because he doesn’t get a lot of credit in general.
– The beautiful moments abound: "Goin’ to Acapulco", "Orange Juice Blues", "Katie’s Been Gone", "Nothing Was Delivered"
– The cross-eyed and funky moments abound too: "Yazoo Street Scandal", "Lo and Behold", "Yea Heavy and a Bottle of Bread"
– Love the piano on "A Bottle of Bread." Brilliant. And then the insanely low vocals at the end. What a bunch of goofballs.
– OK, I know "Ain’t No More Cane" wasn’t recorded in 1967, but it’s great nonetheless, and it sounds like it fits in those sessions.
– I love "You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere", but Dylan’s solo acoustic version, released on Greatest Hits Vol. II, is superior to the version here in terms of sheer hilarious fun.
– Again, I love "Don’t Ya Tell Henry", but it’s not a basement tape track.
– I prefer this version of "Wheel’s On Fire" to Danko’s on Music From Big Pink. This one really captures the ominous feel of the song (the feel is similar to "Ballad of a Thin Man"), which is especially fitting because it was apparently an expression of Dylan’s mortal fear after his motorcycle accident. The version on Big Pink always seemed like a bit of filler, honestly. I love the way this one ends in a sing-along fashion.
– This is truly one of the great moments in rock and roll history. Lay aside those who were obviously influences for a moment. Could this be the birth of the whole DIY ethic that produced the underground music of the last 40 years? Seriously, I can’t imagine that Malkmus wasn’t hugely influenced, at least indirectly, by this.
Wikipedia has an excellent article on this one. Covers a lot, from the sessions themselves, to critical responses to the collection. It’s a nice guide to the record.

Cohesion (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Concept (5/5)
Songs (5/5)

Quick Review (LP): C’mon by Low

Sub Pop; 2011

My Rating: C (51/100)

Best Tracks: "Try to Sleep", "Witches", "Nightingale", "Something’s Turning Over"

Sounds like chicken, tastes like Low.

– With Low, you’re never really sure whether they are making a grand statement or just doing what they do best.
– "Majesty/Magic" is the type of track that would really benefit from some new instrumentation. I feel like the band isn’t really pushing themselves to try something new.
– "Witches" is cool – sounds like it means business – and nice banjo.
– Love the eerie vibe on "Nightingale."
– "Something’s Turning Over" is a nifty new approach for the band.
– Low’s greatest strength threatens, of course, to become their greatest weakness. They come perilously close to creative monotony on this record, with many of their huge, brassy slo-core composition threatening to thud redundantly. Low, perhaps, needs a revolution in sound, or at least a new lease on songwriting.
– From the way this Pitchfork review reads, I think Low albums need to be approached in the same way as a fine wines. You have to be ready and willing to detect the subtle notes. But I’m wondering if it’s really time for Low to branch out? The last paragraph sums up how I view the record, but with this many albums in, I’m starting to wonder if the band’s innovative shelf life has expired.

Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (3/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Blonde On Blonde
Columbia; 1966

My Rating: A (90/100)

Best Tracks: "Visions of Johanna", "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)", "I Want You", "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again", "Just Like A Woman", "Absolutely Sweet Marie"

Return of the Jedi to Highway 61‘s Empire Strikes Back to Bringing It All Back Home‘s A New Hope

– Alternate album title: Bobby’s Bad Hair Day.
– "Rainy Day Women" may be a bit of a novelty, but in terms of arrangement, it’s a pretty awesome novelty.
– Sounds very similiar to Highway 61 Revisited, but the key difference is thematic. Highway 61 was a road record, this one is a broken hearts record.
– I question whether it was necessary to include "Pledging My Time" and "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat". Then again, the record might be a little too sweet if he hadn’t, and they are both pretty solid tracks.
– Love the piano on "Sooner or Later." Huge song!
– Read somewhere that "Visions of Johanna" is about the devil. I can see that.
– "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again" is one of the greatest tracks ever. Period. The drums, the circus organ, the noodly guitar in the left speaker, Dylan’s lyrics, and especially that chorus. Oh Bobby!
– I’ve read somewhere that unreleased versions of most of these songs exist that include guitar from Robbie Robertson. Hopefully a deluxe edition will bring those to light one of these days.
– Anyone know what the meaning of the album title is? I’ve never been able to figure it out, except in a sort of really wooden, non-subtle way.
– He sure has a thing for beginning his songs with adverbs: "Obviously 5 Believers", "Absolutely Sweet Marie", "Temporary Like Achilles"
– Good grief, "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" is laaaaaaawwwwwng. "Desolation Row" was one (great) thing, but given that "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" sounds quite a bit like a few other tracks here, it’s nowhere near as affecting. Although I do like it well enough I suppose.
– You know what? This would be a great album to perform live. Dylan is probably past his prime on it, but a good tribute record with a follow-up might be in order.
– Just listened to a Sound Opinions podcast where they interview Al Kooper, who played organ on this record and was sort of Bob’s band leader. It was pretty revelatory. Al’s favorite song? "I Want You." Why? Because of the sixteenth notes that the guitar player runs at the bottom of every line of the chorus. You gotta listen close, but he’s got a point. It’s the little things like that that are the icing on the cake of this brilliant album.

Be sure to check out my other Dylan reviews

Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Cohesion (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)