Quick Review (LP): So Beautiful or So What by Paul Simon

Paul Simon
So Beautiful or So What
Hear Music; 2011

My Rating: B (68/100)

Best Tracks: "The Afterlife", "Dazzling Blue", "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light"

A love and judgment humdinger.

NOTES

  • Dangit, are my headphones busted again? (“Getting’ Ready…”)
  • So between this and Graceland, I don’t really know what Paul has been up to, but “Dazzling Blue” sounds a lot like it could have been on his 1986 masterpiece, and that’s a good thing.
  • "You got to fill out a form first/And then you wait in a line…"
  • As upbeat as the music sounds, the subject matter on this record appears pretty haunting.
  • I’m thinking that maybe this record is a sequel of sorts to Graceland, both in theme and in instrumentation.
  • Simon’s lyrics are, for the most part, great (as usual).
  • I’m thinking this is a very worthwhile album. It begs for deeper interaction.
  • There are some strong moments here, but Simon’s tendancy to get sing-songy can be a little too distracting. Unfortunately, anything that comes close to greatness is marred by a sort of Sting-ish jazz styling or a song-and-dance showiness. For that reason, you won’t find any moments so brilliant as a "Graceland" or as full of exuberant joy as a "Mother and Child Reunion."
  • The Pitchfork review of this album is really good and exceptionally well written.

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

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Quick Review (LP): Self Portrait by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Self Portrait
Columbia; 1970

My Rating: C (44/100)

Best Tracks: "I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know", "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)"

A classic of the school of monumentally bizarre career moves.

NOTES

  • He’d already released a greatest hits collection. Why not an odds + ends collection? Throw in some live takes from Isle of Wight ’69, and you’ve got a money-maker.
  • It’s a strangely appropriate album title. This is perhaps Dylan’s most radical attempt to reclaim his identity, to snatch it away from the 60’s counterculture. Truth is, I think he succeeds, with unintended effect.
  • Just what the heck IS "All the Tired Horses"?
  • Lots of covers, not much original here. Still, there are some quality moments.
  • "I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know" is a really nice; is it a Nashville Skyline outtake?
  • He really does sound bored on the live take of "Like A Rolling Stone."
  • He really farts around on "The Boxer."  I think that qualifies as irreverent? What was that petty rivalry that Simon and Dylan had going on back then?
  • I love this version of the "The Mighty Quinn." One of my all time favorite Dylan cuts. So loose, so carefree, so joyful.
  • I don’t know that this is really the load of junk that everyone suggests. It’s an odds and ends collection that would sound right at home on "deluxe" reissues of some of Dylan’s late 60’s and early 70’s work. It’s not prime material, but it ain’t bad either.
  • Stephen Erlewine’s AMG review is pretty incisive here. Key insight: "To say the least, it’s confusing, especially arriving at the end of a decade of unmitigated brilliance, and while the years have made it easier to listen to, it still remains inscrutable, an impossible record to unlock. It may not be worth the effort, either, since this isn’t a matter of deciphering cryptic lyrics or interpreting lyrics, it’s all about discerning intent, figuring out what the hell Dylan was thinking when he was recording — not trying to decode a song."

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (2/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (2.5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Nashville Skyline
Columbia; 1969

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: "To Be Alone With You", "Girl from the North Country", "Lay Lady Lay", "Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You", "Country Pie"

Bobby goes south in search of a warm bed.

NOTES
– The updated version of "Girl from the North Country" is a great moment for so many reasons. Of course, it’s a lovely duet with the Man in Black himself, which is enough to make it a classic alone. At the same time though, it’s a sort of farewell to the iconic Dylan, the closing credits for the rebel without a cause, the reprise of the film’s harrowing overture. Of course, there would be sequels to Dylan’s first act, but nothing was ever as great as that first act as a whole.
– His voice does sound awful nice here compared to the first eight albums. Almost sounds like a different person.
– "Rest" is a big theme here. Even the opening track, which in its original setting was more about leaving the girl behind, sounds dream like, as if he’s coming home to her.
– This one’s not so different from John Wesley Harding, but it is certainly more oriented towards the popular country music of the time than the cross-eyed folk found on the former.
– I kinda wonder if there was some sort of folk-celebrity interplay going on between Dylan and Simon at this time, since "Lay Lady Lay" and "The Boxer" (both big singles in 1969) have such similar choruses lyrically. Of course, Dylan "covered" "The Boxer" on his next release…
– This is a wonderful warm record. Personally, I’m a fan of the domesticated Dylan, and though I do think New Morning is better, this one is a strong record nonetheless.

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

Quick Review (LP): Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron & Wine

iron and wine kiss each other clean Iron & Wine
Kiss Each Other Clean
Warner Bros.; 2011

My Rating: B (66/100)

Best Tracks: “Tree By The River”, “Monkeys Uptown”, “Godless Brother In Love”, “Glad Man Singing”

Prediction: one of these days Sam Beam will make a lullabye-metal record, entitled Iron Maiden & Wine. For now, we must content ourselves with his exceedingly pleasant indie-folk, and Kiss Each Other Clean shouldn’t make anyone upset at that fact. Now from what I know of Iron & Wine, this is the grandest stretch Beam has yet made. It’s essentially a record that celebrates the soft-rock of the 70’s, with a little bit of Stevie Wonder’s good-times-funk thrown in for flavor. As for references, Paul Simon and Fleetwood Mac are primary, and “Half Moon” recalls Clapton‘s “Promises” big time. This is a friendly record, wide-eyed and fatherly, full of great melodies and warm, clever arrangements. Additionally, the best tracks feature some truly lovely moments, especially “Tree By The River” and “Godless Brother In Love.” This isn’t a great record – the last song in particular sort of stinks – but Beam deserves accolades for taking some serious chances here. A 70’s throwback record could easily have sounded hokey coming from Beam, but he pulls it off rather well. That’s much easier said than done. Worth a listen for fans of the soft-rock sound.

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

AMG review
Pitchfork review
SputnikMusic review

Quick Review (LP): So Runs The World Away by Josh Ritter

so runs the world away ritter Josh Ritter
So Runs The World Away
Pytheas; 2010

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “Change of Time”, “Southern Pacific”, “Lark”, “Long Shadows”, “Orbital”

The world may be running away, but Josh Ritter’s 6th LP finds him slowing things down. More meditative than Ritter’s past efforts, this record is no less dense with lyrical majesty and lush with orchestration. It’s not an “easy” album by any means, especially for those who have come to love Ritter especially for the big-hearted Americana of Hello Starling and The Animal Years. Nevertheless, it’s an album that asks you to surrender, with the payoff to follow. The poppiest songs (“Lark” and “Lantern”) are buried in the album’s mid-section, sandwiched between two of the record’s most obtuse tracks (“Folk Bloodbath” and “The Remnant”), and the rest of the record is more dream-like and/or cinematic than anything Ritter has come up with before. What we have here is a musician once heralded as a latter-day Dylan achieving a heartland synthesis of Simon and Springsteen. That’s an interesting development. So Runs the World Away may not grab you with the immediacy of some of Ritter’s past work, but with a little bit of patience you’ll see some real genius begin to unfold.

Paste review
Metacritic reviews

Like Eddie Vedder…

Just wanted to touch base and say that I’m still alive, and plan on returning to regular blogging sometime in the spring.

A few music-related thoughts:

– the new Norah Jones was like the last Norah Jones, pretty blah…
– the new Vampire Weekend is okay, pretty mediocre compared to their outstanding debut…
– the new Dawn Landes sounds EXCELLENT after one listen…
– I never did pick up the Farrar/Gibbard record…anyone care to comment?
– Louisville indie-rockers Second Story Man just released a new record, Screaming Secrets…you should check it out…
– I’d probably agree with Paste Mag that Sufjan’s Illinois was the greatest record of the last decade…more later though…
– I”m stoked that Louisville’s Follow the Train might re-group when their new LP is released on Removador Records
– of course I’m with CoCo…duh…
– I like that new-ish band Real Estate…
– psyched for some new Josh Ritter in the spring, more psyched for the tour that should follow…
– best record of 2009? No clue…I think last year kind of sucked for music…

That’s it for now, stay in touch…