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?

NOTES
– 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

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
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…

NOTES
– 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.

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

NOTES:
– 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

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

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)

Quick Review (LP): Recovering the Satellites by Counting Crows

recovering the satellites Counting Crows
Recovering the Satellites
DGC; 1996

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: “Daylight Fading”, “Children In Bloom”, “Monkey”, “A Long December”

After channeling Van Morrison on their first record, the Crows hired Pixies producer Gil Norton and decided to channel The Band on their second. You’ve got Dan Vickrey and his massive, flaming guitar riffs as Robbie Robertson, Duritz as the fame-wrecked and soulful Richard Manuel, and even Charles Gillingham’s organ sounds like the madness that Garth Hudson was putting out back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Where lovely mandolins once adorned the band’s pretty folk songs, Duritz has instead concocted a collection of stadium-sized hard rock songs. Some of them are epic. “Children In Bloom” and “Recovering the Satellites” both go way beyond anything you’d have thought the band was capable of on August and Everything After, and “Miller’s Angels” is about as impressionistic, cathartic, and arcane as a roots rock band could be that side of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Yet the album shares one key thing with August – great songs. Between “Daylight Fading”, “Monkey”, and “Have You Seen Me Lately?”, this is one of the better rock albums of a hard rock decade. That’s notable, especially since Duritz really doesn’t get much credit as a rock musician. But the proof is here for those who are willing to listen and put aside the fact that he is also the guy who wrote (great!) wuss-rock like “Mr. Jones” and “Round Here.” Still, the final word must go to “A Long December”, which is quite simply one of the greatest tracks of the 90’s, and the sort of tune that is nearly impossible not to sing along with. Naysayers, respect is due.

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

Related Links:
My review of August and Everything After
AMG review of Recovering the Satellites
Duritz on the songs
SputnikMusic reviews of Recovering the Satellites