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

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Quick Review (LP): This Desert Life by Counting Crows

this desert life counting crows Counting Crows
This Desert Life
DGC; 1999

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: “Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye”, “Amy Hit The Atmosphere”, “All My Friends”, “High Life”

The Band‘s influence is still prominent, but what I think of with This Desert Life is Gram Parson‘s cosmic americana. There’s something particularly starry-eyed about the recordings here, with the more epic tracks achieving the sort of prolonged, brilliant focus that Duritz had only come close to achieving on Satellite‘s longer tracks. Standout performances belong to guitar wizard Dan Vickrey (again) and drummer Ben Mize, the former for continuing to channel Robbie Robertson’s humble-pie lead work, the latter for delivering some of the best working man rhythms since Kenny Buttrey’s magical performances on Blonde On Blonde. I’ve already declared my love for “Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye” elsewhere, but dozens of listens in it’s still one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard, the divine love child of “Rocket Man”, “City of New Orleans”, and “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.” And while Duritz got tagged with the “Van Morrison” mantle pretty early on, this record’s “All My Friends” is the track that comes closest to emulating the blue-eyed soul man. This is a wide-open road record, a celebration of classic rock that is at the same time the most focused and well-written in the Crows’ catalog. While it didn’t quite score the big hits, it’s the band’s sleeper, the little known gem that is just waiting to be discovered, by you and everyone else.

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

My review of Recovering The Satellites
My review of August And Everything After
SputnikMusic review
AMG review

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

Late Greats: My Favorite Tracks from Michael Been of The Call

michael been I can’t remember the last time an artist’s death struck me as deeply as the loss of Michael Been of The Call. I guess I can attribute it to several factors: Been’s incredibly human, affecting delivery; their status as a “never-quite-was” band; the fact that they had only hit their stride with 1990’s Red Moon and then called it quits; but most of all his music. I suppose I feel that the humility and emotional depth of the band’s music serves as a sort of antidote for the trite product that we often label “music.” I don’t intend to look down on anyone, but Been was a bird of a different feather from your average pop star, both then and now. No one wrote or performed songs quite like Michael Been.

So I guess what I want to do here is run through a few of my favorite tracks, tracks that reach a little deeper into The Call’s back catalog, and give a little more exposure to this man’s beautiful music. I hope his memory lives long – I think he was a sort of under-recognized treasure to the world of music, an artist who never fit any particular mold but made great music that was completely true to his own vision. So enjoy the clips…

”Red Moon”
Although this track is certainly not typical of The Call’s sound, it’s just beautiful. Been paints a lyrical picture that seems to follow a man through the stages of his life, dressing it in a simple song that almost comes off as a lullabye. And I guess that’s what I love about this track – it’s almost as if Michael is addressing the song to a child, a subtle admonition to take nothing that comes in this life for granted.  “A warm wind and a red moon and the world goes by…”

”What’s Happened to You”
Michael takes a cue from Van Morrison on this gorgeous track, the opening cut from Red Moon. Notably, he’s joined on the chorus by Bono, who (thankfully) lets Been take the lead. The track seems addressed to someone who has emerged into joy from a deep darkness. This is the sort of track that you can’t help but sing along with, and Been masterfully plays the song leader. “Did you see some great vision/Did you finally break through/Did you shake the foundations/What’s happened to you?”

”You Run”
”…but you can’t escape the reach of love.” I wonder how autobiographical this particular track is, especially coming just on the heels of the intensely dark Into the Woods. Again, the intensity and immediacy of Been’s vocal delivery makes for sonic gold.

”A Swim in the Ocean”
The Call uncharacteristically took a shuffling blues approach on this track, employing a poor man’s music style to deliver a rebuke to the wise of the world. They prove their musical flexibility, giving me one more reason to lament the fact that they didn’t continue into their second and third decades.

”I Don’t Wanna”
This is perhaps Been’s most powerful vocal performance. There is a point in this song where he sounds like he might just come apart at the seams. I can only imagine how transcendent it would have been to see this song performed live. I get chills just thinking about it.

“Become America”
This song was actually recorded as part of the band’s attempted comeback in the mid-90’s. There is a sort of heartland quality to this track, with Been delivering a spiraling lyric that seems to lift America up to the Almighty, asking for mercy for all her sins.

”Uncovered”
I can’t think of a more fitting way to say goodbye to the man. There is something so final and vulnerable about this track. There’s really no use describing it in words – it simply must be heard. The closest touchpoint is Dire Straits’ “Brothers In Arms”, but just listen already…

There’s plenty more goodness to “uncover” with The Call. While most of their LPs are out-of-print, if you like what you hear, you can purchase mp3s through Amazon, and most of their old records and CDs can be found in hard copy via eBay.

So long Michael. Rest in peace…

Josh Ritter: The Animal Years (2006)

JOSH RITTER
THE ANIMAL YEARS; 2006
V2 RECORDS
MY RATING 91/100
What can I say about this that Stephen King hasn’t already? THE ANIMAL YEARS proves once and for all that Josh Ritter is a monumental talent of the folk-rock art. I dare you to find a rotten track herein. While GOLDEN AGE OF RADIO and HELLO STARLING both had their moments, you know this is an altogether grander affair from the opening mandolin notes of “Girl in the War.” Ritter’s themes are transcendent with melodies to match, and Brian Deck’s production surrounds his songs in heavenly halo of sound. “Monster Ballads” is a transportingly exquisite driving song, while “Good Man” ranks among the best “let’s stay together” songs in the history of pop. Rounding all of it out with the joyfully propulsive (“Wolves”) and the mystically visceral (“Thin Blue Flame”), this is the type of record that any fan of Dylan, Van Morrison, or Wilco should have in constant rotation. My only complaint is that it’s not longer.
TRACKS
1. Girl in the War (5/5)
2. Wolves (5/5)
3. Monster Ballads (5/5)
4. Lillian, Egypt (5/5)
5. Idaho (4/5)
6. In the Dark (5/5)
7. One More Mouth (5/5)
8. Good Man (5/5)
9. Best for the Best (5/5)
10. Thin Blue Flame (5/5)
11. Here at the Right Time (5/5)

Josh-ritter-animal-yearsJosh Ritter
The Animal Years; 2006
V2 Records

My Rating: 91/100

What can I say about this that Stephen King hasn’t already? THE ANIMAL YEARS proves once and for all that Josh Ritter is a monumental talent of the folk-rock art. I dare you to find a rotten track herein. While GOLDEN AGE OF RADIO and HELLO STARLING both had their moments, you know this is an altogether grander affair from the opening mandolin notes of “Girl in the War.” Ritter’s themes are transcendent with melodies to match, and Brian Deck’s production surrounds his songs in heavenly halos of sound. “Monster Ballads” is a transportingly exquisite driving song, while “Good Man” ranks among the best “let’s stay together” songs in the history of pop. Rounding all of it out with the joyfully propulsive (“Wolves”, “Lillian, Egypt”) and the mystically visceral (“Thin Blue Flame”, “Idaho”), this is the type of record that any fan of Dylan, Van Morrison, or Wilco should have in constant rotation. My only complaint is that it’s not longer. A classic album of the early 21st century.

TRACKS

1. Girl in the War (5/5)
2. Wolves (5/5)
3. Monster Ballads (5/5)
4. Lillian, Egypt (5/5)
5. Idaho (4/5)
6. In the Dark (5/5)
7. One More Mouth (5/5)
8. Good Man (5/5)
9. Best for the Best (5/5)
10. Thin Blue Flame (5/5)
11. Here at the Right Time (5/5)