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)

Advertisements

Career In Brief: Bob Dylan in the 60’s

Bob Dylan exerted his greatest influence on American culture in the 1960’s. Arriving anonymously in New York from Hibbert, Minnesota in the early 60’s, he came with a guitar, a dream, and not much else. What helped him standout was an ear for various American music genres, a truly unique lyrical wit, and a knack for memorable songwriting that has only really been rivaled by a few other greats of his generation (you know the names).

Dylan’s 1960’s career can really be divided into 3 distinct phases: folk icon, rock poet laureate, and Americana revivalist. While distinct, these phases definitely overlap. Bringing It All Back Home in particular finds him transitioning from an idealistic folky into a visionary proto-punk. From 1962 thru 1965, Dylan re-defined the canon of folk music with tunes like "Blowin’ in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changin’". In 1965, he "went electric", diving into full band rock and roll and releasing a string of three records that probably constitute the greatest triple header in the history of American rock and roll. After suffering a motorcycle accident and getting married within the space of a year, Dylan began writing simpler but no less marvelous tunes, preferring Nashville to New York City as his music took a turn back toward the subdued folk leanings of his early style. It was also during this period that Dylan began his famous collaborations with The Hawks, later to become The Band.

Albums

Bob Dylan (1962) – [B-]: An understated debut. Dylan hadn’t quite figured out how to be Dylan, and most of the songs aren’t his. Probably only interesting to Dylan diehards. ("Song for Woody", "Baby Let Me Follow You Down") [my review]

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1962) – [B+]: This album is a bit overrated, but it does feature some truly classic tunes. The best of Dylan’s "folk icon" period. ("A Hard’s Rain’s A-Gonna Fall", "Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright") [my review]

The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1963) – [B-]: Dylan swerves toward the protest folk scene on this one. Features some pretty well known tunes, but in my book, a skipper. ("The Times They Are A-Changin") [my review]

Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) – [B]: Dylan begins to hint at what was to come by re-directing toward the sense of humor that he displayed a bit of on his precocious debut. He doesn’t quite nail it, but there are some worthwhile moments. ("All I Really Want To Do", "It Ain’t Me Babe") [my review]

Bringing It All Back Home (1965) – [A]: Dylan’s first great record. Poetic rebel mysticism. ("Subterranean Homesick Blues", "It’s All Over Now Baby Blue") [my review]

Highway 61 Revisited (1965) – [A+]: One of the greatest of the greatest, hands down. Dylan makes a helluva road record, and probably invents punk rock a decade before anyone knew to call it that. ("It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry", "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues") [my review]

Blonde on Blonde (1966) – [A]: Rock and roll’s original epic, and perhaps still its best. A mystical and romantic Americana road show. ("Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again", "Visions of Johanna") [my review]

The Basement Tapes (1975) – [A]: Though not officially released in the 60’s, this vital set of recordings probably marks the beginning of a number of different genres, including alt-country and lo-fi. That’s incidental though. What really matters is that these are FANTASTIC songs that simultaneously launched The Band’s career, and Dylan has never sounded like he was having so much fun. ("Goin’ to Acapulco", "Yea Heavy and a Bottle of Bread") [my review]

John Wesley Harding (1967) – [B]: Dylan’s early electric material gets the most press, but let’s be honest, it really was a natural and organic progression. It’s JWH that represents a truly jarring change, because it finds Dylan sounding completely stripped down and completely over his mid-60’s persona. It may not be a GREAT record, but it’s a warm and enjoyable listen, and the sort of the thing that you’ll find yourself coming back to with surprising frequency. And in many ways, it’s a sort of template for 70’s folk rock. ("I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight", "All Along The Watchtower") [my review]

Nashville Skyline (1969) – [A-]: Warm and sweet as apple pie, there’s almost no sign of the rock and roll rebel that ruled the 60’s here. Instead, Dylan swaggers through 10 tracks in a little more than 26 minutes, with a new found vocal style that sounds totally removed from anything he’s done in the past. It’s brief, but it’s a strong offering nonetheless. ("Lay Lady Lay", "Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You") [my review]

Non-Album Highlights:

  • "Positively 4th Street" (one of his best)
  • "I’ll Keep It With Mine"
  • "Percy’s Song"
  • "Mixed Up Confusion" (notable because it’s an "electric" Dylan track from 1962, well before he supposedly "went electric")
  • "I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) [live 1966]"
  • "Quinn the Eskimo" (bridges the gap between the Manfred Mann version and Dylan & The Band’s Isle of Wight version)
  • "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" (sounds like early Springsteen)
  • "Baby Got Back"

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): 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): 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): Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Bringing It All Back Home
Columbia; 1965

My Rating: A (95/100)

Best Tracks: "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "She Belongs to Me", "Mr. Tambourine Man", "Gates of Eden", "It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding", "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue"

This is Dylan’s first truly great album. Sure, he’d written lots of great songs before now, but this one feels crafted to please from start to finish.

NOTES:

– From the outset this sounds fresh and revolutionary.
– The lead guitar throught is excellent.
– The bridge album from his early folk style to his surrealistic Americana.
– All in all, this is a great album full of funny, colorful, thick songs and exceptional playing. There is a dream-like quality throughout.
– "115th Dream" is a lyrical trip.
– "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue" is one of my all time favorite tracks, because it is a break-up song that puts the end of the relationship in apocalyptic terms. Also, I like the noodly guitar that sort of haunts the background of the track. It’s flourishes like these that are signs of what was to come from Dylan over the next several years, both in his solo work and in his collaborations with The Band.
– This is perhaps Dylan’s Rubber Soul or maybe even his Revolver. That is, it’s a bit overlooked, but arguably one of the greatest records of the 60’s. It marks a turning point in music history for sure, and as for personal preference, this begins my favorite Dylan period.
Erlewine of Allmusic makes a good point that the whole Dylan going electric thing makes for good film footage of angry fans, but as an artistic marker, it is overplayed: “…it’s not just that he went electric, either, rocking hard on "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Maggie’s Farm," and "Outlaw Blues"; it’s that he’s exploding with imagination throughout the record. After all, the music on its second side — the nominal folk songs — derive from the same vantage point as the rockers, leaving traditional folk concerns behind and delving deep into the personal.”

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

Quick Review (LP): Hard Candy by Counting Crows

hard candy counting crows Counting Crows
Hard Candy
DGC; 2002

My Rating: B+ (77/100)

Best Tracks: “Hard Candy”, “If I Could Give All My Love”, “Goodnight LA”, “Miami”

While I didn’t much dig this album upon its initial release back in 2002, I have to admit that it has stood the test of time remarkably well. Sure, if the Crows have a “sell-out” record, this is the one. The hidden track, “Big Yellow Taxi”, was all over the radio for a while, sounding more like an American Idol product than a single from the band that wrote “A Long December.” Additionally, Duritz co-wrote “Butterfly In Reverse” with Ryan “Critical Darling” Adams (long before ol’ Ryan had come through the strange phase that was his first five LP’s), which is arguably the worst track on the album. But the thing is, there’s just too many great tracks on this record to tank it overall. “Hard Candy” might be the best opening track on any of their albums. “Richard Manuel Is Dead” is a powerful and moving tribute to the tragedy of The Band’s heart and soul.  “Goodnight LA” and “Good Times” are big, harrowing, soulful numbers. Even “American Girls”, with its thin, poppy guitar jangle and hyper-yearning vocals, is a pretty fantastic song. That’s not to say that Hard Candy doesn’t have its flaws. For one, it’s frontloaded with the best material. For another, the production is too precious. But that’s OK, because it’s a very listenable record with several bright spots. While it may not be as good as any of their first three records, Hard Candy is at least in the same league.

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

AMG review
SputnikMusic review
My review of August And Everything After
My review of Recovering the Satellites
My review of This Desert Life

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

Quick Review (LP): Shame Shame by Dr. Dog

Dr Dog Shame Shame.jpgDr. Dog
Shame Shame
Anti/Epitaph; 2010

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “Stranger”, “Where’d All The Time Go?”, “Unbearable Why”

Saw these guys live back in 2004, and at that time I was really into The Band, so it all made perfect sense. Bought their first CD (Toothbrush), which turned me off, because back then I didn’t do lo-fi. Since then, they’ve released a lot of stuff, and since this one is really pretty good, it seems I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Their appeal still abides in that same good-time/goofball, working class, folk-rock category, and what’s more I don’t detect one iota of hipsterism here. I appreciate that. These guys are increasingly making AOR sourced from all the right influences, from The Beatles to The Eagles to Boston. When it all comes down to it, this one ain’t gonna blow your mind, but in my estimation, it should provide several repeated listens worth of classic rock bliss.

Wikipedia on the album (good writeup)
Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews
Band website