Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 12

Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks

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My Dylan kick continues, but I have to now jump chronologies a bit, as, after John Wesley Harding, things go a bit (pardon the pun) off the track for a few releases.

Until this one, that is.

Blood on the Tracks is a staggering accomplishment. This was Dylan’s 15th album. That’s more than most artists will ever record, period. If they even DO make that many, you’d think #15 would inevitably come in the winter years. But Dylan was barely 34 at this point. This is hardly even mid-career.

Yet, in many ways, it’s an archetypal “mid-career” release.

If the stereotypical trajectory of a maturing artist runs from the over-zealous early years, to the overly minimal winter years, then of the mid-career years we would expect the seamless integration of everything passionate and wild and exuberant and dangerous and groundbreaking that made the early years so good, balanced against the refinement, the maturation, the seasoning, and the devastatingly spot on self-editorial skills of a lion in winter.

And that’s pretty much exactly what we have here. In my opinion, Blood on the Tracks is probably the single best representation of the broadest range of Dylan’s otherworldly abilities. That’s not to say it doesn’t have it’s awkward moments—it does. It’s not perfect, not flawless. But if someone asked me, with one single album, to try to establish grounds for saying that Bob Dylan is the greatest songwriter this country has ever produced, I’d probably hand ’em this one.

Tangled Up In A Blue alone could sustain the curriculum demands of an entire University system devoted to songwriting. As could Shelter From The Storm; Lily, Rosemary, and The Jack of Hearts; Simple Twist of Fate, and so forth.

Put another way, it’s a hell of an album.

 


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 11

Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding

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The Dylan kick continues.

This is an album for which the term “deceptive simplicity” might have been coined.

It was recorded in about 12 hours total, across 3 sessions.

It was commercially released about 4 weeks after the recording sessions were complete.

There are only two other musicians on the bulk of album—Kenny Buttrey on drums and Charlie McCoy on bass. There is a bit of steel guitar from Pete Drake on 2 songs. All the rest is Dylan, on acoustic guitar, piano, and harmonica.

There are 12 songs total.

The album is less than 40 minutes long.

There are, give or take, something like 60 different “biblical allusions” to be found in the lyrics.

Of this album, Dylan once said, “There’s no blank filler. Each line has something.”

I believe it was Rodin who once famously described sculpting as something to the effect of , chipping away at everything that wasn’t the sculpture.

When you’ve chipped away the sculpture, this is the album that remains.

And what a perfect sculpture it is.

Deceptively simply.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 10

Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde

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Alright, so first, let me get this off my chest: I like Old Crow Medicine Show. But their take on this album, is a bad album.

Next, I am agnostic about  “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” I neither like it nor dislike it.

Finally, my favorite thing about this album is remembering my Dad singing “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” to me when I was a kid.

Double-finally, I don’t agree with Bob Dylan that Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands is the best song he’s ever written.

That said, it’s pretty fuckin’ incredible.

 


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 9

Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited

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Yep, still on my Dylan kick. We already recommended Bringing It All Back Home a few months ago, so skippin’ ahead to Highway 61 …

Is this Bob Dylan’s single greatest album? It’s entirely possible it is.

in 1965, Bob Dylan was 24 years old. 24 years old. 24 years old.

Bob Dylan was 24 years old, and this was already his 6th album.

Rolling Stone listed this 4th on its 500 Greatest Albums of all Time list, behind Sgt. Pepper, Pet Sounds, and Revolver. This is patently stupid to the point of nonsensicality.

Is Ballad of a Thin Man this most brilliantly scathing song ever written? Possibly …

Al Kooper has recalled that at the end of the session, when the musicians listened to the playback of the song, drummer Bobby Gregg said, “That is a nasty song, Bob.” Kooper adds, “Dylan was the King of the Nasty Song at that time.”

He was also simply King of the Song.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 8

Bob Dylan – Another Side of Bob Dylan

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It happens sometimes. You get on a Bob Dylan kick. I’m on a Bob Dylan kick.

Is this Dylan’s funniest album? Possibly. It’s also one of his weirdest, and greatest.

That it could be all that, and still be entirely solo acoustic—all recorded in one single session—is pretty fucking remarkable.

You could pretty much rank the importance of this album entirely by the cover versions of its songs, if you wanted to. It’s almost unbelievable how many classic tracks there are here.

It’s also almost impossible not to read meaning into these lyrics, given how much we know of what was going on in his life at the time:

Go melt back in the night
Everything inside is made of stone
There’s nothing in here moving
An’ anyway I’m not alone
You say you’re looking for someone
Who’ll pick you up each time you fall
To gather flowers constantly
An’ to come each time you call
A lover for your life an’ nothing more
But it ain’t me, babe

But on the other hand, we can just read them, listen to them, and thank God for this man’s songs.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Aug 7

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’

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This is one of the most important albums ever recorded.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – May 24 [Bob Dylan Edition]

Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

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Well, it is the man’s birthday after all.

Having already recommended Mr. Dylan’s first album, I now move to his second.

If his debut yielded one arguably almost-great song—that being Song to Woody, of course—album number two offers, by my count, at least five indisputably great songs:

  1. Blowin’ in the Wind
  2. Masters of War
  3. Girl from the North Country
  4. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fal
  5. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right

Which is a pretty stunning leap forward, to say the least.

It’s not yet his greatest album, and it’s not quite my favorite, but it is an astonishing, incredible, towering, and moving achievement.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Apr 4

Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home

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Recommending this album is a bit like announcing that water is wet.

It’s so obvious that it’s that good, and it’s of course SO influential, and we all know it, and we’ve all listened to it a million-and-half times, and generation after generation has simply devoured its offerings without ever being sated, because we just want more and more and more.

But there is a limit.

Incredibly enough, the album completes itself before the 47 minute mark. Just 46 minutes of music. That’s all. Just 11 songs.

It’s as if The Bible, The Koran, The Blue Cliff Record, all were just 11 chapters long. Just brief afternoon reads. That’s all.

As far as I’m concerned, Dylan invented songwriting with this album. Either that, or he invented something we need a new name for. Cuz whatever this is, and whatever came before it, are very different things.

Recommended track to start with? Don’t be silly.

 


365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 23

Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan

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Hands up for who has an original pressing on vinyl! Yep, me too …

So, the thing is, this isn’t his best album. In some ways, it’s barely even tangentially related to the material he earned his Nobel for.

All the same, you simply can’t fully comprehend the full measure of the man’s achievement without absorbing this debut.

And that said, many of the performances here DO rank high on the list of Dylan’s major accomplishments—Song To Woody, one of only two “originals” on the release, remains one of his greater songs, even in the context of everything that’s come after.

His performance of House of the Rising Sun, despite being arguably lifted right off of Dave Van Ronk’s plate, is incomparably beautiful, and his take on Baby, Let Me Follow You Down ranks as one of the better ones historically (tho some would say he “borrowed” the arrangement here as well!).

Spoiler alert: If Dylan’s rather singular approach to the harmonica ain’t your thing, this album may drive you crazy—it’s everywhere, in all its bovine, major-chord glory.

All in all, it’s not an album to listen to through and through, every day. But it’s  an album you must listen too, through and through.


On The Eve Of The Songwriter’s Showcase Finals, A List Of 23 Genius Songs We All Wish We’d Written, But Didn’t

Tuesday, May 5th, 7-10pm, Britannia

Tomorrow night, it’s the finals of the 13th Annual Songwriter’s Showcase (sponsored by Mars Studios, and hosted by the Britannia Arms in Capitola, CA), and I am to be a judge. Which is very exciting for me, and an honor I accept with the utmost seriousness.

Because said event is nigh, I have songwriting on the brain.

Now, in re: said event, based on what I know to date about the competitors, I think it is safe to say that we are not working with the broadest definition of singer-songwriter (i.e. anyone who sings a song they have written), but rather, we are operating within the more precise realm of the “Singer-Songwriter”; that is to say, within the folk-troubadour tradition. Operators within this space may claim as their ancestors and inspirations the likes of, say, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, or Joan Armatrading; James Taylor, Jimmy Buffett, or Townes Van Zandt; Bill Withers, Billy Bragg, or Neil Young; Tracy Chapman, Dolly Parton, or Nick Drake; Elliot Smith, Patti Smith, or Carol King; Phil Ochs, Suzanne Vega, or Ben Harper; Greg Brown, Indie.Arie, or Bruce Springsteen; Kris Kristofferson, Sam Cooke, or Ani DiFranco, or even, yes, John Lennon and Jerry Garcia. This IS Santa Cruz County, after all.

The point being, there is singing a song one has written, and then there are “Singer-Songwriters.” For this event, I think it is safe to say we are considering the latter.

And so, bearing that in mind, I have elected, almost strictly for personal kicks, to assemble a list of some of the greatest songs (fundamentally — with just a couple stretches– in this mold) ever written, songs that you and I both wish we’d written, but didn’t.

With no apologies for what I’ve left out or what I’ve included, and in no particular order, I proffer the following:

1. Willie & Laura Mae Jones, by Tony Joe White.
Dear ALL aspiring political songwriters. This is how you handle racism in a song. Funkily, powerfully, honestly, and narratively. A masterpiece.

2. The Ballad of Hollis Brown, by Bob Dylan
Devasting. One chord. That is all.

3. Here Comes A Regular, by Paul Westerberg (The Replacements)
If you understand the difference between this and “Piano Man,” you’re on to something. If you don’t, you’re not.

4. Grandma’s Hands, by Bill Withers
Can YOU be this powerful, soulful, beautiful, muscular, and emotional, while singing about YOUR grandma? Yeah …

5. In the River, by Michael Been (The Call)
White gospel, from an 80s indie band. Incredible.

6. Straight To Hell, by Joe Strummer (The Clash)
Just an unbelievably great song; epic, monumental; spooky, depressing; vivid, political, social, emotional, gut-wrenchingly raw, pathotically weird and funny and sad and strange and perfect. And so cool …

7. Glory Box, by Beth Gibbons (Portishead)
Incredible lyric movement, traveling from the personal and idiosyncratic, to the most fundamentally raw, sensual, and real. Killer … And that melody line, over that bass line? Killer …

8. Red Dirt Girl, by Emmylou Harris
As good a “story song” as any ever written, coming from out the folk-blues-southern thing …

9. Our Mother the Mountain, by Townes Van Zandt
Because if you write this …

Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you’ve found
You fool, it’s only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another.

… then your s&%t is amazing.

10. Four Women, by Nina Simone
Because if you can powerfully and successfully address sexism AND racism in a song with a final line of “My name is Peaches,” and not only get away with it, but kill it? Then your s&$t is amazing.

11. Amsterdam, by Jacques Brel
Epic in every sense of the word. Dirty, seedy, and romantic; beautiful, tragic, and raw. And it ends with an image of pissing. Such an achievement … just towering.

12. State Trooper, by Bruce Springsteen
Simply one of the best road songs ever. And that’s saying something.

13. Death Don’t Have No Mercy, by the Reverend Gary Davis
It’s admittedly hard to concede ACTUAL songwriting credits when it comes to the “shared” folk-blues-gospel cannon, but this is pretty close to clear, so I’m just going to say it’s Davis’ song. I played a version of this recently, and someone from the audience spoke to me afterwards, referring to this song as “dark gospel, but true gospel.” To which I say, yes.

14. Psalm, by John Coltrane
There are technically no lyrics to this song, but if you know the story of this song, then yes there are lyrics. And this song is INCREDIBLE. Listen to this while reading the “lyrics,” and you’ll have one of the most moving poetry/music experiences of your life …goose bumps. Forever.

15. 16 Shells From A Thirty Ought Six, by Tom Waits
Because Tom Waits should be on this list somewhere, and because for my money, it was with this song that Waits not only created a language all his own, but became a genre all his own.

16. Back Home In Derry, by Christy Moore
No one does homesick like the Irish, and few do it better than Christy Moore with this song.

17. Fairytale of New York, by Shane MacGowan (The Pogues)
Ditto the above, except way, way, way sadder and more f&#*ed up …

18. Washington D.C. Hospital Blues, by Skip James
Most country blues artists didn’t really “write” songs in the way we think of it being done, and few if any wrote any new material later in life. The eerily excellent Skip James is the exception; he not only wrote brilliant songs of his own, he wrote NEW songs of his own post his “re-discovery.” This is one such song, and it’s utterly, totally brilliant for capturing in a single story (being sick in the hospital), and in a single couplet (I’m a poor man, but I’m a good man, you understand) an entire universe worth of the relationships between pride and shame, poverty and pride, and everything else about what it means to be both strong in, and at the mercy of, the world.

19. Diamonds and Rust, by Joan Baez
Any song that can sound amazing as sung by both the composer (Baez) and Judas Priest, HAS to be incredible …

20. I Shall Be Released, by Bob Dylan (The Band)
Is it possible someone actually sat down with pen and paper and just WROTE this song? Not possible …

21. Think, by Aretha Franklin
Yeah, she wrote it.  Well, co-wrote it. But she wrote it. And it’s so, so, so badass. It’s like singer-songwriter soul haiku, distilled down to the resonant power of just two words: Think. Freedom.

22. Cities In Dust, by Siouxie Soux
Apocolyptic, graphic, poetic, with a hook from the gods. One of the greatest songs from a great era, transcends all boundaries to simply be great, resonant, and powerful. Just play it on acoustic, solo. It swings so hard, and runs so deep …

23. Go Tell Aunt Rhody, author unknown
I don’t know who the hell wrote this lil’ lullaby of Gothic Americana, but it’s a monster lesson in The Weird Old America … Possibly the first song I ever learned, and possibly the song I’ve been trying to write my whole life …

~

Here’s to tomorrow night, and discovering something new to add to this list!


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