Category Archives: Reviews

FALLEN ANGELS by Bob Dylan Review

Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels (and Rising Prayers)

Review of FALLEN ANGELS by Bob Dylan

Darling, down and down I go, round and round I go
In a spin, loving the spin that I’m in
Under that old black magic called love

A few months from this time of writing, Bob Dylan will be performing at a big music event in California, sharing the bill with his contemporaries and fellow septuagenarians the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. No doubt the Stones will be singing “Satisfaction” and “Paint it Black,” and no doubt McCartney will be singing “Yesterday” and “Band on the Run.” And no doubt Bob Dylan will be singing … well, “Autumn Leaves,” “All or Nothing at All,” and “That Old Black Magic.” You have to pause a moment to contemplate how wonderfully absurd and amazing that actually is. In his most recent shows, more than a third of the titles in his set list have been what we might call these “Sinatra” songs, and of the “Bob Dylan” songs in the show most have been from the past decade and a half or so, with only 3 dating back to the 1960s or 70s. And although some concert attendees have been heard griping (and when has that not been true at a Dylan show?), the most notable fact is that he’s actually been getting away with it in quite fine style. Dylan is conspicuously deriving great joy from singing the standards and puts his whole body and spirit into the effort. Singing these gorgeous old tunes (from songwriters he had some significant role in putting out of business) seems undeniably to be making his own heart feel young. Continue reading Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels (and Rising Prayers)

Bob Dylan "Melancholy Mood"

Bob Dylan, “Melancholy Mood”

Bob Dylan "Melancholy Mood"
It is (in the sense of those things these days) Bob Dylan’s hot new single: “Melancholy Mood.” The song is best known from its recording by Harry James and his Orchestra, with brand new boy singer Frank Sinatra, in 1939. It was the B-side of “From the Bottom of My Heart.” Neither side charted, though both are masterful and lovely records and show the promise of the Sinatra to come. Bob Dylan’s version is embedded below here via YouTube, with a little more on the song and his own quite lovely take on it coming under that. Continue reading Bob Dylan, “Melancholy Mood”

Frank Sinatra Christmas Special 1957

Frank Sinatra’s 1957 Christmas Special (with Bing Crosby)

Frank Sinatra Christmas Special 1957Directed by Frank Sinatra himself, and sponsored by the good people of Bulova and Chesterfield, it’s surely one of the classiest Christmas specials ever to go out over the airwaves: twenty-five minutes of unassuming Yuletide excellence. And it’s currently available via YouTube (and embedded below). Continue reading Frank Sinatra’s 1957 Christmas Special (with Bing Crosby)

A Jolly Christmas Frank Sinatra

A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra

(Bringing this out of the archives to mark Frank Sinatra’s centenary)

Review of A Jolly Christmas from Frank SinatraThere’s a communal feeling about most Christmas music. Maybe this is because we generally hear the songs in the company of others, whether it’s as we’re elbowing our way down the aisles of the department store or perhaps singing along with them in church. I think that the most special thing about Frank Sinatra’s A Jolly Christmas
(Capitol Records, 1957) may well be how a very particular mood is created, quite different to that of the run-of-the-mill Christmas album. It is not so much a mood of lonesomeness (although Sinatra was well-skilled with evocation in that area) but a more nuanced and less inherently-sad sense of simply being alone at Christmas. Not miserable, and not necessarily overjoyed either, but simply contemplating and appreciating the season apart from the crowds and the relatives.

In the course of his long career Sinatra recorded plenty of Christmas music, from the sides with Axel Stordahl in the 1940s on Columbia (some very lovely stuff) to The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas on Reprise in 1968 (predictably kind of cheesy). And these Christmas tracks get repackaged and resold over and over again. However, A Jolly Christmas is, to my mind, quite distinct. In 1957 when he went in to record it (during July in Los Angeles), Sinatra was truly at the peak of his artistic powers. Not only was his vocal ability (both the quality of his voice and his sense of how to use it) the best it had ever been or would ever be, but he was also at a peak of good taste. My theory is that Sinatra always personally had good taste, but later in his career he came to believe that his potential audience did not, and he dumbed things down at times in an effort to woo them. At this time, however, in the mid-1950s, Sinatra had a clear idea of what he wanted to do, musically-speaking, and what he was capable of, and he was able to work with arrangers and musicians of great excellence and taste themselves, and together they were able to put out records of a very high standard that in turn reached an appreciative and welcoming audience. All of these factors would never come together simultaneously again, and this is why Sinatra’s albums for Capitol Records in the 1950s stand as his greatest, and indeed as some of the most perfect examples of refined popular music that exist.

To put it in context, A Jolly Christmas was bookended by A Swingin’ Affair! (a sterling Nelson Riddle set) and Come Fly With Me (a masterpiece with Billy May). And released in exactly the same month (September of 1957) was Where Are You?, one of Sinatra’s great sets of lovelorn ballads, this one arranged by Gordon Jenkins, who likewise is the arranger for A Jolly Christmas. Jenkins had his strengths and weaknesses as an arranger, but there’s no doubting that his particular style is crucial in making A Jolly Christmas the unique kind of Christmas record that it is. Continue reading A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra

Sinatra Wee Small Hours

Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours

[Taking this one from the archives to the front page to mark the 17th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s passing]

Review of Frank Sinatra In The Wee Small HoursFrank Sinatra passed away on May 14th, 1998. I recall thinking at the time that with Sinatra gone, all bets were off—anything might now happen in this sad old world. (And I think the record would show that my fears in this respect have proven entirely correct.) Continue reading Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours

Andy Statman Charles Street

Andy Statman at Charles Street

Andy Statman Charles StreetIf you’re ever visiting New York City (or indeed if you live in the area) and are looking for a truly only-in-New-York thing to do, you could most certainly do no better than to check Andy Statman’s concert schedule and see if you can catch him at his home base of Charles Street, in the West Village, where his trio plays informal gigs in the basement of a humble synagogue. Andy Statman plays clarinet and mandolin; in fact, that’s exactly how he was described to me when I first heard of him, and naturally (me being me) I pictured in my mind’s eye a man playing a clarinet and a mandolin at the same time, and I thought to myself, “That’s pretty amazing.” Continue reading Andy Statman at Charles Street

bob dylan shadows in the night review

(Review) Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night

Review of Bob Dylan Shadows in the NightI’ve long harbored the sense that it’s a bit farcical of yours truly to “review” a new Bob Dylan album; being as much of a fan as I obviously am, my enthusiasms tend to run over: I get carried away (especially absent any humorless editor to beat me down). Why pretend to offer an unbiased review? On the other hand, everyone has his or her own biases, declared or no. A review is most useful or interesting to a reader to the degree that the reader either shares those biases or at least appreciates their presence.

However, the special way in which it is impossible for me to pretend to offer a coldly objective review of Bob Dylan’s Shadows In The Night is this: I happen to know that he recorded this album for me. That has to affect things on some level. You see, while I like to think that I have eclectic taste in music, a quick glance at the CDs on my shelves or the gigabytes on my external hard drive would reveal that the music I’ve collected from two particular artists far exceeds the music I’ve collected from any other. Although I’m not into making lists of favorites—top ten favorite female singers, top ten favorite country songs, blah blah blah—there’s no necessity to sit back and wonder who my two all-time favorite musical artists are. They are Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan. Continue reading (Review) Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night

Reverend Eli Jenkins Prayer

Cerys Matthews – A Child’s Christmas, Poems and Tiger Eggs

A Child's Christmas, Poems and Tiger Eggs Cerys MatthewsWhat the heck is a tiger egg?

Well, once, in an interview, Dylan Thomas said of himself (as a younger poet):

I wrote endless imitations, though I never thought them to be imitations, but rather wonderfully original things, like eggs laid by tigers.

Those tiger eggs might not be so well known, but A Child’s Christmas in Wales most certainly is; it has traveled around the world many times over, and is one of the most beloved of all literary evocations of Christmastime. In it, a man of uncertain age tells some small children gathered at his side of what Christmas was like when he was a boy … and in so doing captures the most wonderful kind of magic that human memory can make, bringing to life an idealized Yuletide landscape, fashioned with the kind of reckless joy of language and humanity that defined Dylan Thomas. It is at once so very particular to a seaside town in Wales and so amazingly universal (which explains its perpetual popularity). Continue reading Cerys Matthews – A Child’s Christmas, Poems and Tiger Eggs

The Cinch Review

Bob Dylan Live at the Beacon Theatre, New York

Review Bob Dylan Beacon Theatre New YorkLast night Bob Dylan played the first of a series of five concerts at New York City’s Beacon Theatre, the final stand of his current tour.

I thought I’d probably seen my last Robert A. Zimmerman performance a few years ago. I’ve seen him live quite a bit over the years, and that last show was a good one, and for a variety of reasons I just felt it best to leave it at that. (One also has the impression that Dylan really enjoys playing to the new faces in the crowds, rather than old fogeys like moi.) However, through the intervention of a very kind friend, myself and the missus found ourselves last night once again breathing the same air as Bob and his five superb sidemen: Tony Garnier, George Recile, Stu Kimball, Charlie Sexton and Donnie Herron. Continue reading Bob Dylan Live at the Beacon Theatre, New York

The Cinch Review

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 Continue reading Taylor Swift – “Welcome to New York”