Charlie 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 fueledwith surrealistic double fiddle playing and great tunes like “Devil Went Down to Georgia” …
Tribute 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. Continue reading Bob Dylan in the 80s (Volume 1) – Various Artists→
Oh, 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.
Eilen 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. Continue reading Eilen Jewell at the City Winery in New York City→
The 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.
No, 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. Continue reading Justin Bieber – “Confident”→
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.
Crimson/Red—the first 100% new album under the moniker of Prefab Sprout since 2001’s The Gunman & Other Stories—is a remarkable record, if less than perfect. It is remarkable first for its very best tracks, a great song always being a remarkable phenomenon, and not something we have any right to expect will simply spring into being on a regular basis. The album Crimson/Red is remarkable secondly for its genesis, as Paddy McAloon (the singer and songwriter of Prefab Sprout) has faced a variety of challenges over the last decade in recording and releasing new music. However, he has not been completely inactive.
Out of a condition of temporary blindness caused by detached retinas came the inspiration for I Trawl the Megahertz, the one official Paddy McAloon “solo” album to date, built around the title track, a twenty-two minute instrumental and spoken word piece. The album is a both sophisticated and soulful work and was finished and released in 2003. Continue reading Prefab Sprout – Crimson/Red→
‘Tis the season to remember three of our very favorite Christmas albums, all of which have been reviewed at greater length in these pages in the past. So, in capsule form here and now:
Christmas in the Heart ~ Bob Dylan
Many groaned when they heard Bob Dylan had recorded a Christmas record, and many still think that he himself groans his way through it, but they’re the ones missing out. Immaculately produced in what might initially seem a cheesy fashion but actually features exceedingly smart and classic stylings, it sets the smooth instrumental and vocal backing against Dylan’s hoarse singing, and brings to mind nothing so much as Louis Armstrong in the latter part of his career doing “What a Wonderful World.” The voice is so lived in, the owner of it has seemingly seen it all, and yet at the end of it all can guilelessly sing lines like: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” It counts so very much coming from that place. And, as expounded on at (likely) painful length in my original review, Dylan’s Christmas album manages to blend the secular and religious songs of Christmas together in a startlingly effective way, finding a spirit that unites them. It’ll surely make you laugh and at times it ought well make you cry. You must have it.
(And Dylan’s proceeds in perpetuity go to providing food to the needy.)
A Jolly Christmas ~ Frank Sinatra
Set down right amidst the high water mark of Frank Sinatra’s career and talent in the mid-1950s, this sensitively-made long playing record, arranged by Gordon Jenkins, provides posterity with essential Sinatra readings of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Jingle Bells, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and others. Essential because Sinatra remains the greatest male popular singer to ever lift a microphone to his lips, and he is heard here as the great musician that he was and not the caricature too often present in the popular consciousness. And, as expounded on at (possibly) painful length in my original review, this Christmas album by Sinatra is one particularly apt for listening to when one is alone during the holiday season: not necessarily lonely, but simply by oneself. It’ll take you places. You must have it.
Knew very little about Welsh chanteuse Cerys Matthews when we first encountered this album (the most recently-released on our list) but have become consummate fans since, finding that her work over many years combines remarkable spirit, talent and taste in an especially uplifting fashion. Here, in recordings that possess that spark of genuine live performance, she and her merry band perform such traditional chestnuts as “We Three Kings Of Orient Are” and “Ding Dong Merrily On High” and seem effortlessly to conjure what must have been their original joy and mystery. Indeed, as expounded on at (relatively) brief length in my original review, as well-worn a song as “Go Tell It On The Mountain” is performed here “as if it was composed yesterday, with a fairly overflowing spirit of gladness and urgency. That’s no small thing.” And truly, Christmas is not a small thing, after all. That’s what this album will remind you of, and it will get you singing along too. You must have it.
Under-promise and over-deliver, that’s always our motto here, so here’s two more essential Christmas picks:
Christmas with the Louvin Brothers ~ The Louvin Brothers
The aforementioned Bob Dylan once picked this as possibly his favorite Christmas album, with good reason, as the Louvin’s transcendent harmonies can transport you to a higher place from which you may return with reluctance. Originally it contained only hymns, but the modern edition includes two secular Christmas tunes as well. Ira Louvin was a troubled man, but it sure seems at least he knew where he should be looking for the light.
A Christmas Gift for You ~ Phil Spector (and various)
Is there anyone in the world who hasn’t heard these great tunes, by the Ronettes, Darlene Love and the Crystals? Yet their very ubiquity might make us take them for granted. They evoke Christmas as intensely as a deep snowfall on the evening of December 24th. The producer of all of these amazing sides, Phil Spector, is spending this Christmas in jail, and likely the balance of his life, but it’s worth remembering that there were moments in which he followed his better angels and made music as beautiful and as cheering as this.
The Tallis Scholars—a British vocal ensemble specializing in Renaissance sacred works— are currently touring in the U.S.A. and performed in New York City recently (November 16th), presenting a program of music titled “Transcending Time.” Me and Mrs. C. were fortunate enough to attend and they offered an evening of transfixing music. I don’t count myself well qualified to review this form of music—popular music in the broadest sense is what I love most and comprehend best—but I wanted at least to write down a few appreciative comments, if only for my own edification. Continue reading Tallis Scholars (Alice Tully Hall)→