My Record Collection 92

Easy All Stars – The Dub Side Of the Moon – Ha. Well this was bought for me by my oldest daughter in an attempt to convert me to ‘Dance Music’. She does this quite regularly and mostly I like the stuff she chooses for me; I in my turn try to interest her in earlier singer-songwriter stuff to much less success.  Anyway, this is quite a fun record, a re-recording of reggae versions of the famous Pink Floyd album.  Pleasant enough.  She also bought me Sergeant Peppers Dub Band – also by Easy All Stars,  Not so successful this time, or maybe one album was enough.

 

Eels – A band built around singer Mark Everett, known as E.  Almost every song is about hardship, misery, depression and real or imagined wrongs in the world of E.  I must say I quite sympathise, and miserable bugger that I am I love this depressed stuff.  The singing and music is absolutely first class too, the sings are all excellent and his sad sad voice almost deadpan and barely sung hits the button every time.  I first got into the band (or the man) when I bought a CD single (as I have with so many others).  It was from an album Beautiful Freak (1996). This was officially the debut of the Eels and really has never been bettered.  It is strange how certain songs have such relevance; one of my favourites is ‘Susan’s House’ – and at the time I was dating a woman called Susan and used to love playing on repeat this song on the long bus journey to her house.  Other great songs are ‘Novocaine for the Soul’ and ‘My Beloved Monster’.  But this is one of those lovely records that when you revisit it feels like an old cardigan you love and slip on to keep warm on a wintry day.  I have only bought Eels records sporadically since then (there have been quite a lot of them).  Next up is Daisies Of The Galaxy (2000).   Again, some great songs but without quite the shock value of his debut but good even so.. Favourites – ‘Birds’ and ‘Jeanies Diary’.   Not a bad listen at all. Souljacker followed in 2002.  This seems a more hard-rock album, moving away from the slightly pop feel of his earlier records.  The vocals seem as though they are sung through a grungy layer of smog.  This may well be my least favourite Eels album, no tracks really stand out except maybe the opener ‘Dog Faced Boy’.  But the Cd did come with a four-track live extra CD which is pretty damn good.  I was sort of thinking of giving up on the band but the reviews for a new album were so good that I bought ‘Blinking Lights and Other Revelations – a double album released in 2005.  And it is much better, more like his first two records – more poppy, more quirky, but being a double it suffers – as they almost all do from getting a bit boring.  Best songs ‘Trouble with Dreams’, ‘Railroad Man’ and ‘Hey man, Now You’re Really Living’.  And strangely for an album of 30 plus songs not much else sticks in the brain.  There are a lot more quiet piano tinkling songs, much less anger and more reflections on life – this almost would befit an old man’s record and yet Everett could not have been much past 40 when he recorded these songs. So, more or less a miss of an album.  So I more or less gave up on the Eels.   Maybe I will but them again sometime – but not for a while I expect.   I did pick up a live album Eels With Strings At The Town Hall  which is excellent, almost acoustic versions and includes a great version of Dylan’s ‘Girl From the North Country’.  And so far that is it from a great little band.

Beautiful Freak

 

 

 

My Record Collection 91

Steve Earle – more or less solo

Steve was becoming a junkie however and even went to jail for a while on drug related offences.  For four years he recorded nothing and the Dukes broke up.   But he was always an irrepressible character, and he was writing songs in jail.  He disbanded the Dukes and released a solo album in 1995 Trian a Comin.   This was a slightly subdued Steve Earle, less raucous, gentler and absolutely flawless; as if his time in jail had melllowed him somehow, made him reconsider his life and his music.  He was still writing brilliant songs, of course, but these seemed more mature, more comsidered and I loved the record straight away.  And for the first time he included a handful of covers ‘I’m looking through you’ by The Beatles and ‘Tecumseh Valley’ by Townes Van Zeldt.  But Steve’sown songs are brilliant too – the best of which is ‘Goodbye’, possibly the saddest song in his repertoire.

The following year he released ‘I Feel Alright’, another great record, although maybe a slight return to his earlier sound.  Best songs and favourites are ‘Poor Boy’ and ‘Valentines Day’ and the rocking ‘Hard-Core Troubadour’.  It almost seemed that the old Steve was back, though he didn’t have the old Dukes with him, just the best session players he could find.

El Corazon (The Heart in Spanish) followed.  Another tiumph, another great batch of songs – a bit more bluegrass this time and a few collaborations, duets with Emmy Lou Harris and a couple with whole groups that Steve was obviously a big fan of.  Best songs ‘Telephone Road’, ‘You Know The Rest’ and ‘Poison Lovers’.  The whole record seems to have a jauntiness, as if – which I am sure is true – Steve was having a great time.  A couple of the songs still have a Political Edge – but American politics are harder to penetrate than ours; at least to me.  I am still amazed at how – and of course Steve isn’t the only one – such great songwriters can seemingly just churn out album after album of great songs.

The following year Steve hooked up with Del McCoury and the Mountain Band for a whole album of bluegrass music.  This was an indulgence and I am afraid this is my least favourite record.  The Mountain, only really one redeeming song ;The Pilgrim’.

Steve returned to form with his next Transcendental Blues.    Another pretty good collection really, though not so many truly outstanding tracks.  It is a fact that after a certain number of albums which all have a similar sound you get a bit less excited with each new release and start hankering after the early songs; it is the same at live concerts, you just want to hear the old songs again.  But re-listening ‘The Boy Who Never Cried’ and ‘Galway Girl’ stand out.  There was also a 4 track bonus disc with this release which is pretty good too.

Then a 1995 live album came out – Together At The Bluebird Café.  This was a rare collaboration, a concert with Steve, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zeldt – each singing their own songs in turn.  Simply accompanied by guitar these performances are incredible.  Not a poor song amongst them; Steve’s are a bit softer sung acoustic, Guy is a fine songwriter too – I especially love ‘Randall Knife’ and ‘Immigrant Eyes’.  And best of all is Townes – incredibly sad songs and hard-up monologues; best are ‘Katy Belle’, ‘Lefty and Poncho’ and the haunting ‘Tecumseh Valley.  Townes died a few months after this concert, and Steve later devoted a whole album to his songs, which I haven’t got yet (also more recently – an album of Guy’s songs too).  There was a special closeness in these three renegade superb singer songwriters.  A beautiful album.

Jerusalem came out in 2002 – and this was a more political, certainly a controversial Steve Earle.  ‘John Walker’s Blues’’ is written from the perspective of an American born Muslim, written at the height of 9/11 and Iraq.  ‘Ashes to Ashes’ is another angry song.  But I like ‘What’s A Simple Man To Do’ and ‘Go Amanda’.  Amother very good record.

Then a live double album came out ‘Just An American Boy’ with quite a lot of spoken commentary between the songs explaining Steve; political situation.  A good album overall.

The Revolution Starts Here came out in 2004.  Another pretty political recod – ‘Rich Man’s War’ and ‘Condo’ and ‘F the CC’ are all good – but Steve wasn’t really progressing by this time.  He seemed content to simply bring out another record every two or three years.  Mind you, this is pretty well the state of Music for the last 20 years; nobody, it appears, is changing anything they do, just playing to maybe an ever-diminishing gallery.  Oh Well

Washington Square Serenade followed two years later.  Quite a nice record; the usual stuff really; pleasant country rock songs immaculately constructed and played, and Steve’s voice complimented on most songs by girl harmonies.  Best songs ‘City of Immigrants’ and ‘Steve’s Hammer’.  I feel that Steve was inching towards a more mature essence with this record.

And I feel he has found it with I’ll never Get Out Of Here Alive, his album from 2008.  Here the songs seem to have moved away from country music to a more folk and blues style; slower songs, less rowdy choruses and overall a gentler sound.  I quite like it, but I am not sure where he is going next…. Anyway, either I got a bit tired of Steve or there was just too much other music to buy, but I sort of slowed down and have stopped buying his records – though I will again one day. Overall a wonderful songwriter, a socialist and a great artist – just one of so many.

 

 

 

 

 

My Record Collection 90

Steve Earle and The Dukes

Steve emerged out of East Texas in the mid-eighties; there was something of a revival in country-rock music at the time with Guy Clarke (see C) and Lyle Lovett breaking through occasionally to the non-country music charts.  Steve’s first album Guitar Town (1986) was a brilliant debut, all self-written songs which sound so good you cannot quite believe they weren’t standards already.  The twangy guitar and great backing band complement Steve’s all-American but slightly weary voice – there is that yearning in the voice which draws you in.  But it is really the incredible songwriting which is the key to Earle.  Almost every song on the record is excellent; if I have to pick favourites – ‘Fearless Heart’, ‘My Old Friend The Blues’, ‘Little Rock’n’Roller’ (a phone call to a son he rarely sees from a father on the road and maybe on the run too) and the classic ‘Someday’ (a yearning to leave small-town hick America and get a life at last) The record was an almost instant hit in America and Canada – barely heard of in the UK.  I caught up with Steve when I bought a CD single off album number 4, then I worked my way back.

The following year he brought out Exit 0.   Another rollicking country rock jaunt, not quite such great songs as the debut but pretty good anyway.  Best songs – ‘No. 29’, ‘San Antonio Girl’ and ‘I Aint Ever Satisfied’.  A slightly bigger hit this time; Steve and the band were touring America and building a following for this new exciting rock music with a country twist.  Great stuff.

Copperhead Road carried on in the same, if slightly rockier, way the following year. You do have to wonder just where all these great songs come from – is it just the excitement of youth and success, long hours on the tour bus, the sheer joy of discovering chords and words that go together.  Who knows, but Steve kept pouring out superb songs.  The sound was evolving a bit too, almost a folksy feel to some songs with violin and female backing too; Steve called it a mix of Bluegrass and Rock and even had the Pogues on one track. .   Best songs ‘Copperhead Road’, ‘Devil’s Right Hand’ and ‘Nothing But A Child’

Then in 1990 Steve released what, up till then, was his best album The Hard Way.  It is jam-packed with great songs and much longer than his earlier records too, some songs even 6 minutes long.  The soundscape is broader too; in some ways it is a classic rock album just sung with a country voice.  This was the first Steve Earle album I bought; I had the CD single ‘Justice in Ontario’ and loved it so I bought the album.  And still love it.  Best songs – again hard to choose but – ‘Have Mercy’. ‘Regular Guy’ and of course ‘Billy Austin’ (the song from a killer facing execution detailing the bleakness of his life) stand out slightly from a great record.

Then – we heard nothing for four years.  Steve had a serious drug addiction and even spent time in prison during this time.  He more or less disbanded his band ‘The Dukes’.  His record company put out a live album “Shut Up And Die Like An Aviator” in ’91.   Actually quite a cool live album, and a bonus track ‘Wild Horses’ – the Stones song at the end sung fantastically by Steve. In ’92 Live At the BBC came out.  A great concert again.  I also have The Collection which came out in 2002 but contains songs just from this early period up to 1990.   An excellent compilation – all the hits, plus a couple of live tracks, even two by Springsteen (see S).

Steve was becoming a junkie however and even went to jail for a while on drug related offences.  For four years he recorded nothing and the Dukes broke up.   But he was always an irrepressible character, and he was writing songs in jail.  He disbanded the Dukes and released a solo album in 1995 Trian a Comin

My Record Collection 89

The Eagles.  Wow, another huge band with massive record sales.  I simply adored them right from the start and had all their albums.  I recently bought a CD box set of their studio albums.  They played almost the first real Americana, or modern country music,  Gram Parsons (see P) had taken The Byrds (see B) in this direction but for whatever reason it took a few more years before this sound really took off.

First Album released in 1972, simply self-titled is faultless, as they all are really; I can’t think many bad Eagles tracks. The band were unknown but producer Glynn Johns turned in a great record from just four original members; Glenn Frey (see F), Don Henley (see H), Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon.  All were great musicians and songwriters and each could sing really well – though they did seem to sound almost exactly the same.  Almost immediately came the “Eagles” sound – a laid back easy country rock groove with delicate harmonies.  Best songs “Train Leaves Here This Morning”, “Take It Easy” and “Witchy Woman”.  A brilliant start – though they didn’t really achieve fame until album number two,

Desperado This was the ‘Concept’ album, the life and death of an outlaw.  Another great batch of songs and only 35 minutes long; immediately you want to replay the record.  Great songs – ‘Doolin Daltons’, ‘Tequila Sunrise’, ’Bitter creek’ and ‘Desperado’.  The album cements the outlaw myth brilliantly and is filled with sadness but some great faster songs too.   The band were now writing songs together, especially Henley and Frey – but also two non-band; J.D. Souther and Jackson Browne (see B) who never joined but wrote with the band occasionally.  This is probably my favourtie album – it is all of a piece which I like.  But they were changing.

And their next record On The Border was a bit harder, a bit rockier, a bit less ‘country’.  It sold much better, but in a way as they spread their canvas maybe they lost a little something.   Not that this is by amy means a poor album; some great songs – ‘Already Gone’, ‘You never Cry Like A Lover’ and the big hit ‘The Best Of My Love’.  The band were now almost invincible with Number 1 singles and they chased fame down the road.

The following year they were even more successful with One Of These Nights. And although this album had four brilliant songs – the title track, ‘Lyin Eyes’, ‘Take It To The Limit’ and ‘After The Thrill is Gone’ – I don’t really love the record.  A bit too stylish, a bit too slick, too disco, too commercial.  And the band were indulging in industrial consumption of cocaine and disagreements led to the departure after this album of Bernie Leadon, who was the country influence and a major songwriter.

The band drafted in Joe Walsh, who already had a solo career and a couple of big hits of his own. And yet the result was probably their best and certainly their biggest hit album.  Hotel California was a triumph.  The whole record sparkles with brilliancy; the songs are cynical and a touch world weary and yet they are great sing-alongs.  The title track sums up the whole feeling in 1976 of things going bad, poltically and in music.  Punk and Disco between them were threatening to make old-fashioned ‘Rock’ bands redundant – and yet The Eagles rose above it and created a masterpiece.  Almost all the songs are superb but I particularly like ‘New Kid In Town’, ‘Wasted Time’ and ‘The Last Resort’  which is almost a companion piece to the title track.  And yet the band were in serious trouble and Randy Meisner, bass player and founder member departed after this record.  This just left Frey and Henley as original members.

It was three years before the next record emerged The Long Run.   This was intended as a double but emerged as a single record.  I wonder given the few poor fillers how bad the rejected songs must have been.  The title track is good and ‘Sad Café’ is another dystopian ode to America and the Sixties; and ‘King Of Hollywood’ is good, incidentally telling us what we already knew, which is why the recent Harvey Weinstein revelations should have come as no surprise.  Incidentally Dory Previn around the same time wrote about the same stuff.  But although eagerly anticipated the album disappointed and apart from the occasional money-making World Tours every decade or so they called it a day.  Frey and Henley released pretty decent solo albums but on their own they weren’t half as good as together.

And then a surprise – a new album Long Road Out Of Eden in 2007.  A double album of mostly softer gentler songs, but although it is beautiful it seems a bit lost really.  Maybe they made the record just to prove they still could – but it seemed they had nothing new to say really – and time had moved on, as it always does, and one questioned their relevance.  Despite that it was number 1 in America and the UK and made them lots of money.  But as a double it was certainly too long; two single reocrds a couple of years apart would have been a better idea.  And as I am listening again I do quite like it – best songs; ‘Busy being Fabulous’, ‘What Do I Do With My Heart’, and the title track.

Of course I also have the obligatory Complete Greatest Hits (2003) A pretty good collection though a bit too heavy on Hotel California and The Long Run.  There is also a track ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’, which was a single and three live tracks; the excellent ‘Seven Bridges Road’, and ;Get Over It’ and ‘Love Will Keep Us Alive’ (pretty bland).  Also one new song ‘Hole In The World’ (average).  So that’s it.

On the Border

VENGEANCE – A short story

Vengeance?  No – I don’t feel vengeful, or even that angry.  Except with myself, though that is more irritation than real anger.  Mostly I just feel sad.  Incredibly sad, and, I suppose sorry for myself.  And, if I am honest, more than a touch of incredulity.  How did we get here?  Why didn’t I see it coming?  But then – I was never really that clever.

When did it start?  Ah, only she knows that.  And him of course – we mustn’t forget him.

All I knew was when she told me.  And I was shocked.  I mean, absolutely.  I had no idea.  Talk about a bolt out of the blue. It was the last thing I expected.  I said earlier that I wasn’t really that clever.  Oh, I excelled at school, but I sort of bumbled along in real life; as if all that academic learning meant nothing in the world of emotions – anger and love and jealousy and hatred.  And when I met her – Joy – it was as if that name encapsulated everything I was feeling.  It was beyond happiness, it was better than anything I could have imagined, and most of all it seemed so right.

But now it is wrong.  All wrong.  In fact, everything is wrong. Her telling me she is having an affair is wrong.  In fact, the word affair itself is wrong.  It is far worse than that.  She told me she is in love with him.  And she didn’t even soften the blow by saying she still loved me.  In fact, she told me directly that she didn’t love me anymore.  She hadn’t loved me for a long time, since the baby was born in fact.  Two years.  Our little girl is two years old.  So – if she didn’t love me how come she had still made love with me.  But no – those thoughts came later – much later.

The strongest emotion I recall was simply disbelief.  You know that feeling you have on waking when you aren’t sure if you are still asleep and everything is whirling around in your head as you try to shake the dream away.  That was how I felt.

I was disoriented, my stomach churned over and over, I desperately wanted to vomit, I felt a terrible rush of imminent diarrhoea, I was dizzy and I just wanted to escape.  I ran out of the house and away, just running, running, running – until I ran out of roads to run down, and out of breath.  I slumped against a wall and tried to recall what she had said.

That was my immediate reaction.  And now, two weeks later, it is just sadness.  I have moved into the small bedroom – the one I had painstakingly decorated as a nursery for our little girl, her cot now in Joy’s, our old, bedroom.  I have taken to laying awake all evening, all night sometimes, listening to Leonard Cohen “One of us cannot be wrong” and Dylan “It’s all over now, baby blue.”  Wallowing in self-pity, replaying the words she said and the words I should have said – but couldn’t find at the time.

And, of course it didn’t end there.  It never does I suppose.  I offered forgiveness, I said that if she would stop seeing him then we could start over.  I would never mention it again.  You know – all that sloppy bollocks.

I was quite pathetic.  I still am.  She is leaving with him at the end of the week.  I gave her the choice you see, I said she had to choose.  And she has.

 

Last night I asked her why.  Not why she had slept with him, not why she was leaving me for him.  But why she had stopped loving me, why that had opened up a space in her heart.  You see, even now I can’t quite believe in any real wrongdoing on her part.  It must have been my fault, or at least, I must have been complicit in some way.

And she took the opportunity to wound me even more.  The truth is always hard to take, especially when it comes from the one you still love.  She said I had always intimidated her.  From the beginning really, she had always felt somehow inferior to me, to my knowledge, to my confident social skills.

“I felt stupid” Joy said “next to you.  You always knew what to say, you were witty where I was dull.  I felt everyone looked down on me, that they somehow thought I was the lucky one to have you as a husband.  Other women can be very catty and I felt they were sneering, or laughing even, behind my back.  I began to hate you, and maybe for the very same reasons I had fallen for you.”

She went on “I just needed to prove to myself that I was somebody, someone in my own right, not just your wife.  I felt I was on a treadmill, staying at home with the baby, washing, cleaning the house, cooking endless dinners.  That wasn’t how I imagined my life would end up.  And so – I began to hate you. With a vengeance.  And every time we had friends round and they laughed at your stupid jokes the dagger went in a bit deeper.  Every time you discussed Politics or Religion or Art, I despised your cleverness even more.

“I never had opinions you see” she continued. “I was just normal, a bit of a dunce at school, I never sought the limelight.  And I could never talk.  Not like you could anyway.  So, I plotted my revenge.  Well not revenge really – but in a way it was getting back at you.  At first it was just for the excitement, the thrill of doing it behind your back.  Every time we did it I felt I was getting my own back on you somehow.  And you had no idea, did you?  That was the best part.  My ideal form of vengeance.  And stupidly I thought I could get away with it.”

“But of course, the longer it went on the more I fell in love with him.” Joy shrugged. “And now it’s all gone too far, and I can’t give him up.  Besides it will have all been for nothing if I go back to you now, won’t it?”

 

What did I think when she told me all this?  I really don’t know, too early to take it all in.  And though I have no feelings now except sadness, at least I am beginning to understand what vengeance is all about.

My Record Collection 88

Dylan – Live and other stuff.   Some of these are bootlegs or released radio broadcasts where the copyright is only 30 years or maybe less.  So, not official releases but still pretty damn good.

Bob Dylan and The New Folk Revolution.  This is over half early Dylan songs – no really new stuff, and a collection of Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Dave Von Ronk songs.  Okay but hardly essential.

The Singer and The Song.  A great double album of Dylan and Johhny Cash songs, not singing together but still a good compilation.   I really don’t know how these other record companies get some of this early Dylan material, maybe it is officially licensed – but I am not sure.   Anyway, a great compilation – some early stuff from Dylan too.

Life and Live Only – I think this was an official CBS release of again early radio live performances’ not bad but nothing new or not really available elsewhere.

A Fool Such As I – well, this is again a strange one.  In the early Sixties Dylan fell out with his record company CBS and recorded an album Planet Waves (not his best by a long chalk) with Asylum records.  In retaliation CBS released a selection of poor songs which Bob had recorded but not included in Self Portrait of the previous year.  When Bob returned to CBS the following year this album, simply titled Dylan was buried and not released for many years on CD.  This album, ‘A Fool Such As I’ is basically that deleted record plus, and here lie the buried gems a whole lot of Dylan Cash duets…Whether they ever intended for an album or were just having fun in the studio (2 songs with Cash came out on Nashville Skyline anyway) is unknown but buried treasure it is.

Across The Borderline   This is a live double album of a concert with Tom Petty and the Heartnreakers (see P).  This was mid-nineties.  Bob and Petty toured extensively and several concerts were broadcast on local radio stations (presumably to encourage ticket sales).  Some of these emerged a few years later as live CDs.  See a bit later Decades – an 8-album collection of live sets (4 of which were live Petty/Dylan concerts).  This is quite a good concert with a fair sprinkling of Petty songs.  Bob’s voice is pretty shot though – but as usual I bought it.

Can’t Wait.  Another late 90’s concert – this time with his own band.   I am still not sure about this record, I like some of it – but almost every song is played as a slowish chugging bues, all long versions, quite hypnotic – but ultimately a bit more than boring.  And I much prefer the original arrangements.  Dylan admitted that he was constantly changing the arrangements of his songs trying to find a new way of playing them to keep them fresh for him as the singer.  Oh well.

Decades – an 8 volume set of live discs – 4 of which are different concerts with Tom Petty.  The first two are okay, early radio shows, interviews and songs from a young performer hoping to get noticed.  The four Tom Petty ones are okay but a bit much.    CD2 is especially good, with a very young Bob, almost embarrassed in an interview and not wanting to sing his own songs, he sounds really charming.  Disc 3 is another from The Rolling Thunder Review, not sure exactly which concert but very good as usual.  Discs 3 to 6 are all with Tom Petty and pretty repetitive realy.

Discs 7 and 8 I haven’t heard yet…

Shelter From A hard Rain. .Another broadcast from the Rolling Thunder Tour.  Pretty sure this was from TV broadcast I saw back in very late 70’s.  Anyway, brilliant as usual.  I just love this stuff and can’t wait (but I must) to start in on the mega box set of Rolling Thunder about to be delivered..

Chimes Of Freedom.   Is a four disc set of other voices singing Dylan.  Absolutely wonderful,

In fact one of my very favourite Dylan albums.  Too many great performances to single out any.  This album truly showcases just what a brilliant songwriter Dylan was.  I could listen to these CDs all day long – and I am often tempted to,

Then we come to the various Greatest Hits. I did have the original 1967 release of Bob Dylans Greatest Hits on vinyl, long since transferred into cassette.  As I now own all the early albums there is no need to rebuy it.  Much better was More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits (1971) I reviewed this earlier, it has four new songs which are among his best.  This was released at a time when he was seen as having a run of pretty poor Dylan albums really – but it made me go out and buy them, and now I love them.

Dylan – (2007) a single CD of Bob’s best.  A pretty good place to start – and goes right up to late 90’s.

Masterpieces – A 3-disc greatest came out in 1978 but concentrates on early stuff – mostly the early 60’s.  I bought this really for 2 tracks which were released in the mid-seventies as a rare single and were never on any album; Rita Mae and They Shot George Jackson Down.  But a good album anyway.

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits – Vol 3  (1994) concentrates on Seventies and Eighties.  And it just makes you realise how good he still was.  While the early stuff will always resonate, these later songs were more varied, more complex often and probably worked on harder.  There have been very few artists whose work has been consistently good over the decades.  But Bob was always one to plough his own furrow; sometimes it might have seemed that what he turned up was less rich than at others, but he continues to defy description and to surprise us.

The Real Bob Dylan – 2012.  A triple album, more or less in date order.  No surprises but a couple of live versions.  The Bob Dylan industry is in full swing.  Every couple of years a new compilation emerges, as well as the continuing Bootleg series of rare and unreleased stuff.  There is also the seemingly fading possibility that Bob might actually release something new and original again.  We wait. But I have plenty of Dylan stuff to be going on with I am sure you will agree.

The Real Bob Dylan

The SatNav

“No change from yesterday?”

“No.  None at all”

 

The satnav shows a dark blue line; an almost straight line disappearing at the edge of the screen – and yet – constantly growing as the vehicle, a red triangle, though remaining constant, eats up what must be the road.  Edging the blue line, pale yellow roads veer off – my eye attempting but failing to read their names.  Green blocks of colour represent forests, or pale blue – lakes; rivers and streams flow past, never reaching the sea.  I suppose I should look around me, but something keeps my eyes glued to the small curved screen perched on the dashboard.

Where are we going?  I really don’t know.  And feel I cannot ask.  I am the mute passenger, strapped into my seat belt and being taken, I can only assume, to a destination I am unaware of.   I don’t mind this at all; in fact, it is relaxing – comforting – somewhat reassuring. Passivity sweeps over me and I let myself be driven.

After some minutes of staring at the screen, almost hypnotised by the red triangle eating up the ever-growing dark blue line I glance out of the window.  No hint of recognition, no familiarity at all.  And yet – the endless treadmill of the road, just like it’s dark blue representation, is reassuring.  All roads look similar, and the verges and hedges have a consoling sameness too.  Even those dark tunnels that overhanging trees make or the wide vistas, suddenly opening up like some flower as the sun warms it, hold no real surprise.  It all seems one, one winding and slowly unfolding ribbon – just like the screen, which I never tire of – the road is all.  This dark blue line on the tiny screen fills my consciousness.

“Just a few minutes more”

“But maybe if I stay something will change.”

 

But the line continues on its flat journey across the screen, an ever growing, never changing line.  Representing nothing.

 

Glancing to my left I notice we are approaching something, for the first time I am aware of change.  The satnav shows the same dark blue line but the red triangle – me, I can only assume, is almost at the edge of an expanse of pale blue.  Then my vision is distracted by thick black zig-zagging on both sides of whatever vehicle I must be travelling in.  Slowly the criss-cross patterns space out and I realise that we must be on a bridge.  I hadn’t considered that we might cross a river.  I cannot see the water, maybe it is too far below us.  What is on the other side?   I don’t have the energy or even the curiosity to try to work it out.  I am in safe hands, I know that.  No danger of dropping over the edge.  I look back at the satnav and am reassured that we are approaching what I can only suppose is the far shore.  I relax and close my eyes.  But even closed I can still see the dark blue line we are travelling on.  Maybe my eyes have been shut the whole journey.  It doesn’t really matter.  All that matters, is that we keep moving.  I am reassured by the absence of any small chequered flag hovering somewhere in the distance of the little screen.  I really don’t want this journey to end.  As long as we are travelling, I feel safe; as long as I can see the dark blue trail spooling out before me, I have nothing to fear.  I can relax.  I can even sleep knowing no dreams will come to disturb the calm image of the red triangle, which must be me and the blue ribbon I am threaded on.

 

 

“Time to go now”

“I know, I was just hoping – you know.”

“We must continue to hope.  Sometimes hope is all we have.”

 

 

I must have drifted, maybe I was sleeping.  Trouble is, I don’t really know when I am asleep or awake.  It all feels the same.  My eyes begin to focus once more.  The screen emerges out of dim greyness.  The satnav rises to meet me, the blue line is still there and so am I – the red triangle. We seem to be moving slower now.  Maybe we are hitting traffic.  Traffic?  I wonder what that looks like?  But I cannot, I dare not look away from the satnav.  If I do the blue line might stop, the red triangle which is me, might stop too.  Or even worse to imagine – not be there at all.  Then I might not exist.  I only know I am here because the sat nav shows me.  I have no sensations, no consciousness of being save as the red triangle moving more slowly now along the dark blue ribbon.  I stare hard at the screen and I am shocked to see that we, I, the red triangle – has stopped.  The blue line is not growing any more. No motion, no reassuring engines hum, no gentle rumble of tyres on tarmac.  We have stopped.  I have stopped.  I am frightened now.  Is this the end?  The end of my journey.  I felt safe while we were travelling, while the satnav was eating up the road, the blocks of green and blue, the occasional chequered railway line passing under our road.  But now all is quiet.  I feel as if my time is up.  Maybe this really is the end.  You know – my death.  We all know it is coming, we just don’t know when.  All is stillness.  I cannot see the screen anymore, where has the satnav gone?  How am I ever going to find my way back, get back home, without the satnav.  I must try harder.  I just want to see its dark blue line unfolding again, I’ve got to find it, I just need to know I am still alive.

 

“There.  His eyelid was flickering.  Nurse, come quick. I think he’s waking up.”

 

My Record Collection 87

Dylan – The Bootleg Series 2

Volume 7 – No Direction Home – this was linked to a film by Scorcese, which was actually beyyer yhan the CD as it had a long interview with Dylan.  The album is a bit of a ragtag of alternate and rare live tracks of Dylan up to 1966.  Interesting but not really essential.

Volume 8 – Tell-Tale Signs.  Not so bad.  This focuses on alternate takes of albums from ‘Oh Mercy’ to ‘Modern Times’.  Pleasant listening but again not really adding anything to the story

Volume 9 – The Witmark Demos.  These were tapes which Dylan made at his music publisher’s Witmark.  They were on tape and were very simple one take renditions of Dylan’s compositions – many of which were never recorded in the studio.  An incredible treasure trove – and a completely relaxed Bob, chatting in between songs and breaking down and abandoning a couple too.  Too many brilliant songs to really pick any out – but a great listen – you really feel as if you are in the room with Bob.  One of the very best of the Bootleg series.

Volume 10 – Another Self Portrait.   These were out-takes of songs and other tracks, never released,  for Dylan’s most mis-understood album .  Also a few out-takes from Nashville-Skyline and even New Morning songs.  All I can say is I love this stuff.  It sounds genuine, honest and is a different low-key Dylan, where the quality of the songs shine through.  Some of the songs are originals, discarded like so many others, some are obscure folk songs that Magpie Bob collects and some are old standards.  Doesn’t matter – a really nice treasure trove of stuff.

Volume 11 – The Basement Tapes Raw.  Well, I didn’t really like The Original Basement Tapes which are from 1967 to 1969 but released in 1975.  Too many throw-away songs with childish lyrics and bad production.  To be honest this isn’t that much better, though more songs, some of which appeared on later albums.  But not my favourite period – still, ever the completist I had to have them.

Volume 12 – The Cutting Edge.  These are out-takes from 1965 and ’66. , from the albums gighway 61 and Blonde on blonde a few earlier songs.  Alternate versions of some of his greatest songs and a couple that didn’t quote make it too.   A great albukm but with few surprises really, many of the alternate takes are quite similar to the finished ones.  But an enjoyable listen anywyay.

Volume 12 – Trouble No More.  This was a double CD (as most of the Bootleg series were) of live songs from Bob’s “Religious” period.   Never my favourite run of albums – though Slow Train was brilliant, I didn’t really like Saved.  Mind you, if you can discount the overtly political messages in the lyrics, the tunes are pretty good.  These live versions are classic rock’n’roll style which Bob had drifted into in the late 70’s – with a big band, horns and a girlie chorus.  Still he is in brilliant voice on these live tracks.  And there is a conviction in his voice that is unmistakable.  A handful of rarities too – but ultimately this is not among my favourites – it is almost pure gospel with call and response choruses.  Too much preaching.  Still.

Volume 13 – More Blood, More Tracks.  And I haven’t even listened to this yet  – too many other live records….

The Best of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 12

My Record Collection 86

Dylan – The Bootleg Series 1

In 1992 a ‘new’ Dylan album came out.  It was a triple and called The Bootleg Series – Voliume 1-3.  There had been quite a few bootlegs of early Dylan recordings and concerts so CBS decided to trawl through their archives and produce their own well packaged and cleaned up bootleg.  Over the years this has continued.  I have bought every one – some excellent, some not quite so good.  But they have charted an alternative Dylan.  He was notorious for rejecting songs and recordings which he felt weren’t right and many tracks were simply discarded in his headlong trajectory.  The first 3 albums are quite special, as they are mostly new or unheard songs.

Volume 1 is mostly very early stuff.  A few live versions and some great ‘talking blues’ songs like ‘Talking John Birch’ and ‘Great Bear Mountain Picnic’.  And most of the tracks Bob rejected (at the last minute) from his Freewheelin album.  This, admittedly long disc would have made two great single albums back in the early 60’s.   It seems Bob was writing songs almost daily and could afford to discard so many; The Beatles by contrast recorded almost every song they wrote.

Volume 2 – takes us through to Blood on the Tracks.  Again some great number simply left off albums and a few different versions.  Best songs ‘Mama You Been On My Mind’ and ‘Farewell Angelina’, and ‘I’ll Keep it With Mine’.

Volume 3  – is the late Seventies and the Eighties.   Again, almost unbelievable that such great songs were just left along the way – ‘Golden Loom’, ‘Tell me’, ‘Foot of Pride’ – and best of all ‘Series Of Dreams’ – especially when many of the records he was releasing in the Eighties were pretty dire.  Oh well.  And at least we have them now.

Seven years later and we got Volume 4.  This is the legendary 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert, when Bob did half the show Accoustic and then brought on the band for hard rock and roll.  It is famous for the ‘Judas’ shout from the audience and Bob’s reply ‘I Don’t Believe You’.  In fact this show was recorded at Manchester Free Trade Hall, a few days before the RAH show.  It had been bootlegged in poor sound quality, but this release was from the soundboard and is crystal sharp and brilliant.  As a record of just how exciting Bob could be live it is hard to equal.   It is also quite hard to realise that this was in 1966, when the Charts were full of pretty ditties and soft ballads.  I am not saying that Bob invented Rock, but he certainly laid out a pretty good template.

Volume 5  – is a live concert from the first leg of The Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975, when Bob went on the road with a collection of musicians, Joan Baez, Joni, Mick Ronson and Roger McGuinn.  He had released Hard Rain in late ’76 which was from the second half of the tour and is generally considered a bit weaker.  A great double CD, very exciting and simply superb versions of many of his classic songs.  A great short solo set from Joan too.  Slowly these few concerts and the two albums which preceeded it are being recognized as almost a second wind.  In fact in many ways this was even better than the Sixties stuff; the songs were more mature, the melodies subtler and this period is definitely my favourite.  In fact I have just ordered a 14 disc box set of Rolling Thunder with lots of rehearsal stuff and different songs on different days….can’t wait to start listening to it.

Volume 6 – Is a Halloween solo concert 1964 with a guest appearance form Joan Baez.  Bob was in the first flush of real success; he was still the darling of the Folkies, he hadn’t gone electric yet.  And he was brilliant, so accomplished, so comfortable, so good.  And funny.  Yes, he was really funny, laughing between songs and even when he forgot the words to one of his songs.  The audience loved him – no chants of Judas this time, just adulation.  A great set with quite a few of his early songs.  A great record, which had been planned to go out officially but was pulled because Bob was writing and recording so much other stuff in these early years.  Best song – ‘Mama you been on my mind’

The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare And Unreleased) 1961-1991

 

My Record Collection 85

Dylan in the 21st Century                              

Bob has occasionally mentioned that, though he is credited with revolutionizing the modern song format – especially in his brilliant poetic lyrics, he has always loved older songs, especially the blues and popular standards of the fifties and before.  He is an avid collector of early recordings and has released two earlier albums of old ‘folk’ songs (World Gone Wrong and Good As I Been To You).  And in the Twenty-first Century he has more and more returned to these early blues, both lyrically and in the sound his band has recorded.

In 2001 he released “Love and Theft”.  Here was Bob in full early rockabilly style, the band rolling along and his lyrics cryptically almost whispered above the band – as if the words had just popped into his head.  He seems to have lost his nasal intonation and his emphasizing certain words, preferring a ‘band-leader’ boogie-woogie style.  A good album, though many hard-core fans might have been disappointed.  Best songs ‘Mississippi’, ‘Po’ Boy’ and ‘Sugar baby’.  But the album is almost a continuum with little to distinguish one song from another.  For me too, I am still really familiarizing myself with these later albums – the songs don’t quite resonate with me as the old ones do.  Maybe this is an inevitable consequence – the more we listen to albums (I must have heard the Beatles songs hundreds of times) the more they sink into our consciousness.  That is why we love the old songs so much.  But all in all a pleasant album, and self-written – even if he has used lines and melodies here and there from older blues songs.  Five years later he released what may be considered a companion piece Modern Times. Again an old-fashioned sounding record, relying on old blues stylings and an almost big band swing style.  I am not sure if I really like this ‘Dylan’, it is interesting and his voice is still hypnotic but somehow the words don’t stick in my brain anymore.  Pleasant enough but not remarkable.  But Dylan seems relaxed in this style, though live he still cranks out the old stuff, though often with completely new melodies. Best songs ‘Spirit on the Water’, ‘Workingmans Blues’ and ‘Nettie Moore’.  The records were getting further apart and yet, they sold really well.  As if the public had re-discovered Dylan.  And of course being Dylan he was certain to disappoint them soon.  The third, in what might be described a trilogy (though Dylan would surely disagree) is Together Through Life (2009).  Again a fairly old-fashioned sounding record, but the tunes seemed better to me.  The songs were co-written with Robert Hunter and sound better, more rounded – and the words are better too, best songs – ‘My Wife’s Hometown’ and ‘If You Ever Go To Houston’.  A few of the songs have a sort of Cajun arrangement which was interesting.  I kept faith with Bob through these years, hoping that things would improve, that he might return to his old style – but it seemed in vain; Bob was set in his ways and after almost 40 albums was at last doing exactly what he wanted to do.  Even to the extent of later that same year releasing a mawkish and sentimental Christmas In The Heart.  Obviously his personal favourites, hymns and all.  Oh Well.  And the award for turkey of his career rests here.

2012 saw Tempest.  Another timeless sounding record; Bob’s gravelly voice weaving hypnotic spells over simple backing.  Not bad songs but nothing really memorable;  ‘Early Roman Kings’ is nearest to his old style though I have no idea what the song is about.  ‘Tin Angel’ is pretty good too.  Another long rambling song about the film Titanic and the real sinking of that ship – Tempest.  And a song about John Lennon too.  I liked this record more than the last few, something about it was appealing.  Maybe he was getting his Mojo back.  We waited – but in vain.

As has happened a few times before Bob returned to his roots and next gave us an album of standards; Shadows in The Night.  And despite trying I just don’t like it.  These are all songs recorded by Sinatra between 56 and 62.  So what?  Firstly Dylan does not have a great voice (except surprisingly on Nashville Skyline); he has a very expressive voice, he emphasizes key words in songs – his own songs of course.  We love him for his great songwriting and his way of singing.  But it just doesn’t work when he tries to sing like Sinatra.  Nobody can sing quite like Sinatra anyway, least of all Bob.  Okay, he has earned the right to sing exactly what he wants – we, his fans do not need to like it.  The best thing about it is the record was only 35 minutes long.

Two years later he followed this with Fallen Angels.  Another album of old standards – though at least these were much more well known – but the same dull voice and arrangements.  And even worse two years late we got Triplicate – 3 cds worth of the same.  (Ihave ordered it but it remains unlistened and I suspect unlistenable).  So, that is that from his bobness.  We wait….but not with much expectation.  However the story does not end there….

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