Quick Review (LP): The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan

freewheelin bob dylan Bob Dylan
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
Columbia; 1963

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “Girl From The North Country”, “Masters of War”, “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”, “It’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

This one’s a big deal for a whole lot of reasons, but in my estimation, it’s overrated, at least as an album. Sure, there are some iconic tracks here (“Blowin’ In The Wind”, “It’s A Hard Rain’s…”) and a handful of other great ones, but mixing such choice material with something as trite as “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” prevents the record from achieving any sort of classic status. The fact is, Dylan became a “serious” songwriter on this record, but for all of his heart, his grand creative vision hadn’t yet blossomed. He still sounds a little too fresh, a little too tentative, which is understandable, considering he was barely 22 years old when the album was released. While it’s entirely memorable for a classic album cover and the new American hymns herein, Freewheelin’ isn’t a record you need to own as such – get the good stuff and leave the rest.

AMG review
Wikipedia article
52 Weeks of Music review

Quick Review (LP): Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan

Cover (Bob Dylan:Bob Dylan)Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Columbia Records; 1962

My Rating: B-

Best Tracks: “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”, “Talkin’ New York”, “Song for Woody”

This ain’t my scene, sir, but if I had been there in 1962, who can really know? The young man sings with a lot of conviction and plays the guitar more like a down-south blues man than a sensitive folk singer. A few years later, he’d tell someone he was “a song and dance man” and then smile knowingly. I  can see that here though. On one hand, you start to think around the middle of the record that this guy is a poor Alabama sharecropper from the 30’s. On the other hand, the opening monologue of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” is the voice of a college man. I’m not sure if his take on “House of the Risin’ Sun” is spot on or full of it, but “Song for Woody” is nice, simple and sweet. Overall, he plays mighty fine. Now just who is this guy?

Allmusic guide review

Worth Repeating: Bob Dylan, Song and Dance Man

I’ve seen bits and pieces of Bob Dylan’s 1965 San Fransisco press conference before, but I gain a greater appreciation for it the more I think about the creative process of an artist. Art becomes so much more than what the artist intends, and I think it is a sign of good art when it impacts different people in different ways. Some of the questions Dylan gets asked are just so naive, but he really is a song and dance man. Check it out for yourself…

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Mr. Dylan, I know you dislike labels.
For those of us who are, uh, well over 30, could you label yourself and perhaps tell us what your role is.”

Well, I’d label myself as ‘well under 30’.  (Audience laughter.)
And my role is to just stay here as long as I can.”

*********************************

“Do you think of yourself more as a singer or as a poet?”

“I think of myself more as a song and dance man.”

**********************************

Reporter: How many people who labor in the same musical vineyard in which you toil – how many are protest singers? That is, people who use their music, and use the songs to protest the, uh, social state in which we live today: the matter of war, the matter of crime, or whatever it might be.

Bob Dylan: Um…how many?

Reporter: Yes. How many?

Bob Dylan: Uh, I think there’s about, uh…136.

Reporter: You say about 136, or you mean exactly 136?

Bob Dylan: Uh, it’s either 136 or 142.

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): Rattle and Hum by U2

U2
Rattle and Hum
Island; 1988

My Rating: C (53/100)

Best Tracks: "Desire", "Angel of Harlem", "All I Want Is You", "Van Diemen’s Land", "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (live)"

The sound of a band losing the plot.

NOTES

  • U2 is often accused of trying to inherit The Beatles’ mantle with their cover of "Helter Skelter" opening this record. However, the biggest problem with their cover is that it sort of sucks.
  • "Van Diemen’s Land" is a harrowing little sleeper, isn’t it? Really nice stuff from The Edge.
  • "Desire" is the punchiest tune they’ve written since "I Will Follow."
  • "Hawkmoon 269" is okay. Nothing particularly special in my book. The gospel singers are a little cheesy.
  • Their cover of "All Along The Watchtower" is without vision and forgettable.
  • The live version of "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For" is really nice. The gospel choir takes it in a different direction, but really captures the essence of the song.
  • "Silver and Gold" wasn’t even good in the studio. It doesn’t stand a chance here.
  • The live version of "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" is decent. Nice singalong. "THE EDGE!!!" Love that part.
  • "Angel of Harlem" is such a great tune. It’s one of the few stellar moments here, a song that really transports you into the hustle and bustle of NYC.
  • "Love Rescue Me" was co-written with Bob Dylan. He can be heard on the track. It’s a decent sort of big city blues number with a horn section to boot.
  • "When Love Comes to Town" is one of the band’s firiest moments. It actually sort of reminds me of REM’s "Orange Crush" in a weird way.
  • "Heartland" is a cool tune. Though not among their greater tracks, it’s a definite highlight here.
  • "God Part II" is supposed to mark the jumping off point into techno for the band. It’s a dud.
  • Don’t really dig "Bullet the Blue Sky" anyway, so why would I like it live?
  • As simple as it is, "All I Want Is You" is prime U2.
  • The thing is, if they had cut all the filler, U2 might have had a decent (though still inferior) companion to The Joshua Tree on their hands. See below for my thoughts on a tracklisting.
  • Though it contains a handful of great tunes, Rattle and Hum is the work of band on the verge of nuking the fridge. As a film, it’s actually pretty enjoyable, but the record itself is confusing. It’s not an enjoyable listen from start to finish, and many of the tracks are questionable as anything other than interesting outtakes or incidental music. Towards the end of the Lovetown tour, Bono would famously tell the crowds that U2 needed to go away and "dream it all up again." Couldn’t have put it better myself.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (2/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

My Rattle and Hum tracklist
1. Hawkmoon 269
2. Desire
3. Van Diemen’s Land
4. Silver and Gold (The Joshua Tree version)
5. Angel of Harlem
6. When Love Comes to Town
7. Love Rescue Me
8. Heartland
9. God part II
10. All I Want Is You

Quick Review (LP): How To Become Clairvoyant by Robbie Robertson

Robbie Robertson
How To Become Clairvoyant
429 Records; 2011

My Rating: C (48/100)

Best Tracks: "When the Night Was Young", "He Don’t Live Here No More"

Is Clapton a verb? As in, “He totally Clapton’d this record?”

RANDOM NOTES:

– He was rarely The Band’s voice, but he was its chief songwriter, and a darn good one at that.
– A bit smooth and suave, and sort of bland in a Clapton-ish sort of way.
– Honestly, I was hoping for a record of big Americana pop songs, much like his solo debut.
– And then Clapton shows up on Track 6. It had to happen, right?
– It all sounds a little bit too good times-ish. I’d love to hear something with a little more bite.
– "Madame X" rocks it Weather Channel style.
– There’s no stamp here, nothing that screams at me "This is the new Robbie Robertson record!" Other than the fact that it is the new Robbie Robertson record, but you know what I mean.
– Is it just me, or does he sound like a less talented John Mayer knockoff?
– "He Don’t Live Here No More" recalls some of the pop brilliance of his eponymous solo offering, which is a far superior record.
– I do like "When the Night Was Young", but it does seem a bit pathetic lyrically.
– "She’s Not Mine" sounds a bit like something U2 might produce today, which unfortunately is not a compliment.
– In my mind, the ability of old rock stars to age gracefully has a gold standard represented best by Mark Knopfler, with the last 10 years of Bob Dylan recordings as a close silver.
James Leven (Paste) gets it right: "Still, Clairvoyant feels a bit underpowered when you consider the sheer tonnage of talent surrounding it." "With Peter Wolf and Robert Plant out making records that push the needle in the revered oldster lane, Robertson and his famous friends could easily have taken more names."
– Queue us all wishing that he’d get back together with Levon so that he could get re-inspired by a little southern badassery.
– As far as aging rock stars go, you have a spectrum that ranges from Eric Clapton to Bob Dylan. This clearly leans heavily to the Eric Clapton side of things.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Songs (3/5)

Favorite Albums

Beholdest thou, a running list of my favorite full-length records…

The Beatles – Revolver
Rodan – Rusty
Crain – Speed
REM – Murmur
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Radiohead – The Bends
Tom Petty – Wildflowers
Josh Ritter – The Animal Years
SDRE – Diary
MMJ – The Tennessee Fire
Big Star – #1 Record/Radio City
Fleet Foxes – s/t
Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
Over The Rhine – Drunkard’s Prayer
Freddy Jones Band – Waiting for the Night
REM – Automatic For The People
U2 – Achtung Baby
Palace Brothers – Days In The Wake

Thank You Emusic

This blog is not about advertising, but given that I have a healthy dose of writer’s block tonight, I thought I’d switch gears and just appreciate the fact that Emusic has pretty much drowned me in music over the last month.

1. There’s the standard 37 tracks per month at $15.
2. I purchased 100 tracks using a $30 gift card in August.
3. Last night, they gave me 50 extra downloads for being a loyal customer through their transition in bringing Sony onboard.
4. I will shortly be receiving 10 more downloads for rating 10 albums. Yes, I select stars for my favorite records, and I will get 10 free songs.

That’s 197 tracks in one month at $45.  That’s 23 cents a tracks. Muy bueno.

And what did I purchase? Well, here’s an incomplete list:

1. Modest Mouse, No One’s First and You’re Next EP
2. 12 tracks from Bob Dylan’s first two greatest hits volumes (i.e. “All Along the Watchtower”, “I Shall Be Released”)
3. 5 tracks from Pearl Jam (i.e. “Nothingman”, “Once”)
4. Nathan, Jimson Weed
5. Hem, Funnel Cloud
6.  Neu! 75
7. Arcade Fire EP
8.  The Swell Season
9.  The Inbred, Kombinator
10. Sandra McCracken, Red Balloon
11.  The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime (43 tracks for the price of 12!)
12.  5 tracks from Modest Mouse’s Sad Sappy Sucker
13. Son Volt, The Search (Deluxe Edition)
14. Sandra McCracken, Gravity/Love
15.  Dinosaur Jr., Farm
16. 6 tracks from Modest Mouse’s Epic releases
17. Bruce Springsteen, Hammersmith Odeon London ’75

And while there’s more where that came from, I’m not even done buying yet. I don’t know of a deal that even comes close to that in music downloads. So if you haven’t done a free trial with eMusic, what are you waiting for?

August 6, 2009

Welcome!  New reviews for today:

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Wilco: Wilco (the album) (2009)

wilco_album_390Wilco
Wilco (the album)
Nonesuch; 2009

My Rating: 7/10

It took me a while to get there, but I now consider Wilco’s previous record, SKY BLUE SKY, to rank in the top 3 Wilco albums. SBS initially came off as a bit lazy and disinterested, but after a while I came to see it as Tweedy’s own equivalent to Bob Dylan’s TIME OUT OF MIND, in that it was a clear break from the past in favor of a new and rejuvenating direction. SKY BLUE SKY really is a great record, the sound of a band taking a different approach in the studio and succeeding on all fronts.

That being said, I like WILCO THE ALBUM, especially as it continues in the understated vein of SKY BLUE SKY. Tweedy seems to have completely given up on trying to break our hearts, opting instead to simply sing from his own and let come what may. Pretense seems to be completely gone from his music, and nowhere is that more evident than in the album’s incidental trappings. Bands concerned with continuing to feed some kind of cooler-than-thou image wouldn’t put a two-hump camel on their album cover and don some seriously hideous nudie suits for the album photo shoots. And basketball orange just isn’t the color of pretense, it’s the color of cheese and fire and summertime. Did I mention that these guys named their SEVENTH full-length record after their band, and actually wrote a song about their band being your best friend? The only band that could make this kind of thing pretentious is Pavement, and Wilco ain’t Pavement.

The record opens with “Wilco (the song),” which rivals “Can’t Stand It” for the most upbeat opening track on a Wilco record. Nels Cline delivers a Pixies-esque guitar lead, lending a slight edge to the otherwise good-time groove of the record. The sweet-natured tribute to the fans sends a clear message: this is an album that really doesn’t have much of an agenda. Fair enough!

“Deeper Down” follows, one of a few fairly experimental tracks on the record, featuring a start-and-stop progression. The lyrics appear to be a meditation on mystery, focused on the unsearchable and unattainable both within and without. The lyric progresses happily from “the insult of a kiss” to the “comfort of a kiss,” a signal to some renewed optimism on Tweedy’s part. One can’t help but wonder if this song reflects Tweedy’s own journey as a songwriter. There are many indications that Tweedy, like other artists, has experienced difficulty with the creative process in the past, but his later work, especially the last two albums, suggest that he has reached a certain comfort with his music-making. This appears to be the center that holds “Deeper Down” together. In fact, the start-and-stop structure of the song reflects the old SELAH literary device used in the Psalms, which most scriptural scholars would say probably means “pause and meditate on these words.”

“One Wing” – as in “One wing will never fly” – starts to introduce some sadness to the music, reflecting the dejection of one party after the end of a relationship. Tweedy’s metaphors here are spot on – “We belonged to a bird who cast his shadow on the world” – and while the song does veer off into a bit too much of a groove towards the end, the overall mood provides needed balance to an album that has, thus far, seemed lighter than air.

“Bull Black Nova” comes off like a hybrid of A GHOST IS BORN’s “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and SKY BLUE SKY’s “Impossible Germany.” The lyric and music complement each other perfectly, reaching a paranoid climax along the theme of an apparently accidental killing. While the death is easy to discern through the numerous references to blood, it’s the sense of being watched that slips just under the radar. A Nova itself is a stellar object, and suns and stars populate the lyrics, as if they were the eyes of God Himself. “Nova” is a definite highlight of the record, one that I expect will feature prominently in the band’s sets for years to come.

Featuring an enjoyable duet with a tragically under-used Leslie Feist, “You and I” lightens the mid-album mood, being the breeziest pop song Tweedy has ever written. In contrast with “One Wing”, track 5 is an optimistic testimony to the mystery of relationship. It vaguely recalls “I’d Rather Dance With You” from fellow Feist-collaborators Kings of Convenience, as the couple agree that “I don’t need to know everything about you.” It’s a winner, but as previously mentioned, with a talent like Feist on board, it’s a shame this one doesn’t reach greater heights.

“You Never Know” continues the shift toward the sunny side of life, infecting your subconscious like something you might have roller-skated to back in grade school. It’s got Big Star, George Harrison, and midwest-bred written all over it, and might be the rootsiest thing Tweedy has written since BEING THERE. Could the positioning in the center of the album suggest a certain centrality to its message?

“Country Disappeared” pulls the plug on the mid-album breeze, drawing big correlations between wars in the third-world and the overwhelming presence of the media in our own. Ultimately a patriotic song (“I won’t take no/I won’t let you go”), it does seem a bit untimely given the election of a presidential candidate for whom Tweedy actively campaigned. Still, it is multi-layered, no mere protest song, and features one of Tweedy’s most soulful vocal performances.

“Solitaire” might be otherwise titled “Song for a Repentant Loner.” Reflecting the message of Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock” without any of that track’s distracting moralisms, it’s really a nice, simple song featuring understated but fitting instrumentation and excellent dual-tracked vocals. Again, it fits well with the overall theme of the album, and after a few listens, proves itself one of Tweedy’s best compositions, something that might have found its home on SKY BLUE SKY as well.

“I’ll Fight” is the album’s most urgent song, reflecting a deep spiritual dilemma in Tweedy. Whereas only a few albums ago he lackadaisically sang about a “War on War,” “I’ll Fight” is full of vigor and conviction. Strong religious imagery is employed, the narrating voice identifying in several ways with the suffering of Christ. It comes off something like Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” and is truly a step-forward for Tweedy, exploring the beauty of a life laid down for another versus the emptiness of a life lived without purpose.

“Sonny Feeling” recalls some of BEING THERE’s finer moments; BIG STAR is stamped all over this thing. It’s a life-flashing-before-your-eyes song, with Sonny having to choose between leaving home and seeing the world or staying in her hometown amongst all the “cruel kids.” Coming on the heels of “I’ll Fight’s” study in contrasts, it illuminates something still slightly out of reach with Tweedy, a certain nameless discomfort that keeps popping its head up like a whack-a-mole.

“Everlasting Everything,” a pretty minor-key piano ballad closes out the record in grand fashion, with Tweedy lamenting that “Nothing could mean anything at all.” It’s an exceedingly sad song, where everything that was good and bad is “Gone like a circus, gone like a troubadour.” In the end, Tweedy’s only consolation is to “be glad Everlasting love is all you had.” It’s a fitting close to a record that finds itself stuck somewhere in the middle between a hunger for deep knowledge and the need to take life as it comes. Like “One Wing,” my only contention with the track is that the band doesn’t do more with it.

Overall, this record feels like a summary statement of the band’s first twelve years. I’d call it a mature “AM.” There’s plenty of good material here, in fact it’s pretty consistently good throughout. Tweedy’s lyrics are quite multi-dimensional and genuinely shine within the simple (for Wilco!) production. However, there’s nothing off-the-wall great here, no “Impossible Germany” or “Shot in the Arm” or “Misunderstood” or “Poor Places.” While they’ve thankfully avoided repeating an avant-garde disaster like “Less Than You Think” for two albums now, they could stand to linger a little bit more here and there. It just seems a bit hurried, that’s all.

So with this, a mature AM, here’s to the band delivering a mature BEING THERE next time around.

TRACKS:
1. Wilco (the song) (4.5/5)
2. Deeper Down (3.5/5)
3. One Wing (3/5)
4. Bull Black Nova (4.5/5)
5. You and I (4/5)
6. You Never Know (4.5/5)
7. Country Disappeared (4/5)
8. Solitaire (4.5/5)
9. I’ll Fight (3.5/5)
10. Sonny Feeling (3/5)
11. Everlasting Everything (4/5)