Articles in section: 'Music Reviews'

Taylor Swift – “Welcome to New York”

Review Welcome to New York Taylor SwiftBoy, do I love songs about New York City. It’s a helluva town. From the good old “New York, New York,” to the less old “Theme from New York, New York,” from the lovely Dinah Washington singing Rodgers’ and Hart’s “Manhattan” to the rather dorky Paddy McAloon singing his “Hey, Manhattan,” from Paul Simon strolling up Broadway with diamonds on the soles of his shoes to Lou Reed waiting for his man at Lexington and 125th street, there’s so many things to sing about and so many great songs that have been sung.

It’s a challenge today, however, to suggest that one more has been added to the list. Certainly, “Welcome to New York,” the new tune by Taylor Swift, is a song about New York, but that’s where [Read more →]

“It’s Sunday” – Frank Sinatra with Tony Mottola

It's Sunday Frank Sinatra Tony MottolaThe 1980s did not produce many great Sinatra recordings (although by then, after all, he’d already put enough in the can for three or four “normal” great careers). She Shot Me Down (1981) has at least some virtuous tracks, but L.A. Is My Lady (1984) is a strange disappointment as what turned out to be his last proper studio album; it must have looked good on paper, with Quincy Jones producing and some solid material, but Frank sounds oddly absent throughout and it’s not entirely clear if anyone else showed up either. (In part at least this has to be a mastering problem.)

Still, Sinatra was doing some very fine live work during this time. His voice had declined technically as an instrument, but he knew extraordinarily well how to use it, and had the courage on stage to tackle new and interesting arrangements even with those aging pipes. A highlight of his shows in this era would always be a “duet” with the superb guitar player (and his fellow New Jersey native) Tony Mottola, on something like “As Time Goes By” or “Send in the Clowns.” There would actually be three instruments on stage during these interludes: Tony Mottola’s guitar, Sinatra’s voice, and Sinatra’s microphone. Each was played masterfully. [Read more →]

“When Death Comes Creepin’ (Whatcha Gonna Do?)” – Bob Dylan and a Few Good Questions

Whatcha Gonna Do When Death Comes Creepin' Bob Dylan“Death Comes Creeping” is a song which originated as a Negro spiritual and has had many incarnations over the eons. One version of it is actually titled “Soon One Morning,” with verses including these:

Soon one morning
Death comes a-creeping in the room
Soon one morning
Death comes a-creeping in the room
Soon one morning
Death comes a-creeping in the room
Oh my Lord, oh my Lord what shall I do

You may call your father
Your father will be no use
Call your father
Your father will be no use
Call your father
Your father will be no use
Oh my Lord, oh my Lord what shall I do

(Hear a version on YouTube from Fred McDowell, 1959, recorded by Alan Lomax)

Bob Dylan picked up on the song from someone somewhere, and recorded a number of different versions, changing the lyrics as he went. The song was ultimately published as a Dylan original under the title “Whatcha Gonna Do?” but no recording was officially released until 2010 on The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964. And the officially released performance is of the very same lyric as in the published version (right there in the original Writings and Drawings book). That performance, being a Witmark demo, was precisely for the purpose of publishing. [Read more →]

The Charlie Daniels Band – Off the Grid: Doin’ it Dylan

Review of Charlie Daniels Off the Grid Doin' it DylanCharlie Daniels and Bob Dylan have more in common than some might think. Don’t take it from me, though, take it from Bob Dylan in these extracts from his memoir Chronicles, where he’s talking about how much he enjoyed having Charlie Daniels around during recording sessions for Nashville Skyline, New Morning and Self Portrait.

I felt I had a lot in common with Charlie. The kind of phrases he’d use, his sense of humor, his relationship to work, his tolerance for certain things. Felt like we had dreamed the same dream with all the same distant places. A lot of his recollections seemed to coincide with mine. Charlie would fiddle with stuff and make sense of it. … When Charlie was around, something good would usually come out of the sessions. … Years earlier Charlie had a band in his hometown called The Jaguars who had made a few surf rockabilly records, and although I hadn’t made any records in my hometown, I had a band too, about the same time. I felt our early histories were somewhat similar. Charlie eventually struck it big. After hearing the Allman Brothers and the side-winding Lynyrd Skynyrd, he’d find his groove and prove himself with his own brand of dynamics, coming up with a new form of hillbilly boogie that was pure genius. Atomic fueled—with surrealistic double fiddle playing and great tunes like “Devil Went Down to Georgia” …

Charlie Daniels also wrote about Bob Dylan in one of his books (so that makes them both authors too): Ain’t No Rag: Family, Freedom & the Flag. He describes being interviewed by one of Dylan’s many biographers, Howard Sounes, and then being very disappointed that the book did not turn out to be the upbeat work he had expected. [Read more →]

Bob Dylan in the 80s (Volume 1) – Various Artists

Review of Bob Dylan in the 80s Volume 1Tribute albums, or albums dedicated to the songs of one particular songwriter, come and go, and probably no living musician has had more such albums made in his or her name than Bob Dylan. This new one, however, called Bob Dylan in the 80s (Volume 1), seems unusually pure in its fundamental motivation. It does not purport to contain the best ever Bob Dylan songs and certainly not the most popular ones. It does not feature artists who are household names, and no one could be expecting it to sell in enormous quantities. Its clear motive instead is to lift up songs from Bob Dylan’s most maligned and least hip decade. There was no perennial critical favorite like Blonde on Blonde from Dylan in the 1980s, no classic of heartache like Blood on the Tracks, no universally lauded return-to-form like Time Out of Mind, and no chart-topper like Modern Times. There was Saved, to start out with, and Under the Red Sky to end with. Both albums (though more the former than the latter) have their advocates, but when they arrived they seemed to disappear promptly into deep pools of opprobrium. And the albums in between generally didn’t do a whole lot better in terms of popular or critical reception. Bob Dylan in the 80s (Volume 1), then, seeks to help people listen freshly to some of the lesser-known work of America’s most remarkable living songwriter, and enjoy aspects of it that they might not know about or might have missed. In this, and in just being fun, it succeeds. [Read more →]

Reggie Watts – “Get Ready”

Review of Get Ready Reggie WattsSpeaking of Reggie Watts (“Bob Dylan in the 80s”), he recently put out a new song titled “Get Ready.” From someone who comes up with a lot of highly-charged improvised music in his comedy performances, this track plays it straight, and to these ears it’s just an extremely listenable and groovy piece of old-school pop and soul. [Read more →]

Music from the Welsh Mines – Rhos Male Voice Choir

Music from the Welsh Mines Rhos Male Voice ChoirOh, indeed, we are still very much on our Welsh kick, and with St. David’s Day fast approaching, who knows what may be in store?

This, however, is something very special which recently came to our attention. In 1957, some coal miners from the Welsh village of Rhosllannerchrugog—Welsh is such delightful language!—made a one-off recording, which has now been restored and remastered and re-released by “Moochin About” records. From the official write-up:

When the singing miners of Rhos Male Voice Choir came to London to make this record in St. Mark’s Church, St. John’s Wood, some of them wore bandages. The previous night there had been an accident—fortunately a minor one—in the colliery where they work. Others carried the scars of a more distant date. All of them carried tragic memories of the Gresford pit disaster which shocked the nation in 1934 and resulted in the loss of 266 lives.

There are many great Welsh male voice choir recordings, of-course, if one seeks them out. [Read more →]

Eilen Jewell at the City Winery in New York City

Eileen Jewell review City Winery New YorkEilen Jewell is a singing gem from Boise, Idaho, and around 2005 she struck gold by combining her talents with guitarist Jerry G. Miller, bassist Johnny Sciascia and drummer Jason Beek in Massachusetts, and they’ve since been supplying the world with a well-poised balance of country and swing music with jazzy-torchy stylings, and a little bit of whatever else feels right mixed in. With Jewell writing the songs and providing the onstage patter in a trademark little black dress, they make for a sure-footed combo (one which has been around the world at this point) and they played to a sold-out crowd at the City Winery in New York City last night.

The set ranged from the title track of their first album, “Boundary County,” to new and as yet unreleased songs like “Rio Grande.” Eilen Jewell had the crowd fairly transfixed and charmed, and guitarist Jerry G. Miller had a sizeable fan section of his own in the house. Indeed, seeing the group live made it clear to what degree Eilen the singer and Jerry, her guitarist, are a symbiotic double-act: Jewell’s singing voice evokes words like smoky, languid, even laconic, and benefits greatly from the counterpoint of Miller’s rockabilly-esque colorings on the guitar, keeping the music chugging down the track and occasionally spitting fire. None of the tunes are overly-long, and knowing the value of brevity is just one of the many elements of good taste that Jewell and her band bring to their work. [Read more →]

Justin Bieber – “Confident”

Justin Bieber Confident reviewThe new Justin Bieber single is titled “Confident.” It’s just over four minutes long. But it’s not; not really. It’s about a minute long and the rest sounds like it’s been copied and pasted. And even in that single minute of original music, there is something less than nothing going on. Bieber isn’t singing so much as just whining and grunting. (For what it’s worth the video—embedded below—is largely an exercise in copy and pasting too.) It’s remarkable that for a pop star at his level that this is the best thing that could be concocted for him at a crucial juncture of his career, or indeed at any juncture at all.

Review Confident Justin BieberNo, I’m not a hater of Justin Bieber. The kind of records he’s been making have never been my bag, but I like pop-music, and if he was putting out good stuff he would deserve applause for it. Right now I feel bad for him. He’s nineteen years old, and has been on the celebrity treadmill for six years; i.e., since he was thirteen years old. At this point he likely doesn’t know up from down. He’s getting into trouble with the law, there’s drugs around, there’s crazy driving, and some people have him on a death watch. He’s at the point in a child star’s career when the child has abruptly become an “adult” and everything’s up for grabs, and there might be nothing left of him in a couple of years, even if he’s still alive. He’s clearly not nearly as smart as his contemporary Miley Cyrus (and even she is not quite as smart as she thinks she is) and he appears to be just careening into chaos right now, with poor guidance from whoever he takes guidance from. [Read more →]

Twyla Tharp / Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the release of Bob Dylan’s album The Times They Are A-Changin’ (and wilful perversity always being our first instinct), here’s a review of the short-lived Broadway musical of the same name, originally published on November 11th, 2006.

Review Bob Dylan Twyla Tharp The Times They Are a Changin'The Show Must Go On!

But it won’t go on. After being put down by all the major [Read more →]

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