All posts by adrian

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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My Record Collection 84

Dylan – The Nineties

How relevant were any of the Sixties heroes in the nineties.  Whole generations had grown up considering them to be their parents music; most could not name The Beatles or The Stones, let alone know who Dylan was.  And yet still a hard-core fanbase existed, determined to keep faith with a very erratic Messiah.  And Bob started the Nineties on a high after Oh mercy – and yet he released only a year later probably his worst album of all – though that is debatable.  Under The Red Sky was pretty dire – childish lyrics, lazy delivery and no real focus.  Oh dear. No notable songs either.  How much worse could it get…

Well it depends on your opinion.  Bob released two albums of old folk and blues songs in the early nineties. He has admitted he had writers block and went back to America’s roots.  The albums are completely acoustic, which is just Bob, his guitar and harmonica – and the voice is okay too – it is just that the songs (for me anyway) are so boring.  And samey – the albums just drone on with nothing waking me up.  The first was called Good As I Been To You.  Even re-listening now nothing springs to mind about this record. A year late he brought out World Gone Wrong, very similar but at least a couple of half-decent songs this time.  But really they are barely Dylan albums at all.  Later in 93 CBS released what was advertised as a Dylan album – The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration.  This was a concert organized the previous year to celebrate 30 years of Dylan and featured many, mostly American, artists singing Dylan songs.  Bob sings three songs at the end of the ‘concert’.  It is a nice record, but hardly a Dylan album, although it is credited to Bob.  Anyway – it is part of my collection; some good renditions of Dylan songs but Bob himself was in poor voice really.  Oh Well.

Then another live album MTV Unplugged.  And this time it was brilliant .  superb (sort of) acoustic versions of a greatest hits selection including ‘Dignity’ a song left off Infidels but which is better than that whole album.  This really is the best live Dylan album to own.

But just as we were once again beginning to give up on him – would he ever return to something like his old self – he produced out of nowhere another classic album Time Out of Mind 1997. This was again recorded with Daniel Lanois (see L) who seemed to be able to get the best out of Bob.  Great songs again – especially ‘Love Sick’, ‘Tryin’ to get to Heaven’ and ‘Make You Feel my Love’ (later covered by Adele among others.  The album finishes with another of his strange rambling songs which are long and almost impenetrable, and yet are hypnotic too ‘The Highlands’  All in all a great record and a great way to end the decade and the Century.  What awaited us in the 21st Century none of us knew but with Dylan you had to be prepared for anything

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My Record Collection 83

Dylan – Lost In The Eighties

Ah, the dreaded Eighties, when a whole new wave of younger artists arrived, toting their credentials and full of enthusiasm in the certain knowledge that they would put these 60’s dinosaurs to bed.  The old attempt to record a near exact live performance with four or maybe eight tracks was now blown away by 32 and 64 track technology and synths that could (sort of) reproduce any instrument, drum machines to keep prefect and sterile time – what was the creative artist to do?  At first Dylan tried to keep up, but he notoriously hated the tedium of recording.  His method had always been to add a few unusual ingredients and see what magic occurred.  His late eighties albums simply got worse and worse.  1985 saw Empire Burlesque, a mish-mash of an album, garnered from several failed attempts to record a new batch of songs with various session players and producers; Bob opting to produce himself (badly) in the end.  If he was searching for a new sound he never found it, and mostly the songs just weren’t up to his usual standard.   Or maybe this was his new standard, if so, we were waiting in vain.  No songs really stand out on this rather poor album.

And by some serendipity CBS decided to issue a major retrospective; the three album Biograph came out in 1985.  A sort-of retrospective but with a few unreleased songs and spectacular live performances.  A fantastic collection – and it really served to point up the current poor quality of both Dylan’s songs and his performances.  One almost wonders why he didn’t simply give up there and then.  But Dylan always was a persistent bugger, and he carried on.  Biograph contained a few ‘new’ old songs – ‘I’ll keep it with mine’, ‘Percy’s Song’, the splendid ‘Abandoned Love’ and ‘Caribbean Wind’ (both from Blood on the Tracks sessions) and ‘Up To Me’ – plus some scorching live versions.  A great album – well worth having.

But it was as if this simply passed Dylan by – he seemed oblivious of his past, fixated on the ‘Eighties’ sound.  In 1986 he released ‘Knocked Out Loaded’ – and it was pretty awful; lacklustre songs, cover versions and reworked out-takes.  But it is redeemed by one brilliant songs ‘Brownsville Girl”; this is one of his long rambling songs, almost nonsense but with a great chorus.  Apart from that, a poor album.

Dylan seemed locked in, incapable of writing great songs, chugging out live performances where he messed up both the tunes and the vocals of his old hits.  Strangely, though his records didn’t sell well he was still filling stadiums.  In ’88 he released two albums; Down In The Groove; another very underachieving record – only notable song was ‘Silvio’, but even that was hardly great.  He also released Dylan and the Dead. Yet another live album, this time from a short tour with The Grateful Dead – un-notable even with Gerry Garcia’s sublime guitar notes; simply retreading poorly – much better album tracks.  Even I, a hardened Dylan fan was beginning to despair – was he ever going to write another great song, make a semi-decent record even.  Then in 1989 he spent a couple of months with Daniel Lanois (see L), a Southerner and a subtle record producer who had recently worked with U2.  Apparently, the recordings went badly with Dylan nearly walking away, but Daniel persisted and at last dragged out some great performances and a superb album Oh Mercy.  Dylan’s voice sounded world weary and the songs were slower and about the passage of time and mortality.  Somehow the old magic had returned and despite an awful cover the album sold much better than his recent stuff.  Best songs ‘Ring Them Bells’ ‘Man In The Long Black Coat’ and ‘Shooting Star’; but really not a bad song on the record.   To help promote the album, which CBS suddenly realized was really good, a special promo CD (limited edition – but I have a copy) was issued  – Forever Young.   This is a Greatest Hits plus a few tracks from Oh Mercy – and very good it is too.

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My Record Collection 82

Dylan – The Christian Years

Dylan discovered Religion in 1978, or rather Religion discovered Dylan.  He was born a Jew, though not such a strict family, but his songs are littered with Old Testament allusions, especially John Wesley Harding.  And now Dylan was a Christian.  He couldn’t help his own honesty; he simply had to write songs about it.  Slow Train Coming came out in 1979 and upset many of his fans.  Though the music and the songs were superb – some of his best – they couldn’t see through the words.  The album does feature ‘religious’ songs, but I don’t think they are so obviously so. The record opens with ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ – never mentioning just who.  Mark Knopfler was invited to play guitar and his soft notes enlighten the sometimes harsh words.  Best songs are ‘I Believe In You’ where Bob’s voice is enthralling, and ‘When He Returns’.  But there isn’t a poor song on the record.  Many fans hoped that this was a one-off, only to be really disconcerted by his next offering, with it’s lurid sleeve, Saved, was un-apologetically ramming home the Christian Message.   And really it fails because of that.  It isn’t that the songs are bad, though the backing is heavy and clunky, and re-listening it isn’t that awful.  But this is Dylan – and not that bad is faint damming praise indeed.  Mind you compared to a few of his mid-eighties albums it at least had some decent songs. ‘Covenant Woman’ is really quite good, as is ‘What Can I Do For You’ – but I never really liked it.  The following year, 1981, and Shot of Love appeared; the third of his Christain records – and really it is quite good.  Terrible cover again, but the songs a re far more varied and not all are ‘Religious’.  A much more varied collection of songs too, different arrangements, less girlie choruses, a bit more like the old Dylan.  Best songs – ‘Heart of Mine’, ‘Lenny Bruce is Dead’ and the classic ‘Every Grain of Sand’.  I really quite like this record despite the 80’s production.

Two years later and Bob asked Mark Knopfler to produce his next album Infidels.  And as the title suggests this was quite a reactionary record, railing against foreigners taking American jobs.  A bit of a surprise – but despite some of the sentiments it is really quite a good album, full of anger and rage   But even so, some of the pro-Israeli and protectionist US sentiments don’t sit comfortably with the Dylan of old.  Best songs – ‘Sweetheart Like You’, ‘Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight’ and the quite superb ‘Jokerman’.   But the curse of the Eighties was about to hit…

Before that we have a dire live album Real Live, which was rushed out to fill a marketing gap and is pretty poor.   Although on re- listening, maybe it isn’t quite so bad.   Dylan, no doubt tired of playing his old songs came up with different arrangements, tempos and even words sometimes.  I much prefer the originals – but Dylan considered that each live performance was part of the creative experience too.  Anyway, one too many live albums in my mind.

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The Writing Group

She looked up at the big station clock.  Five to twelve…oh dear.  Only five minutes to get her ticket to Lewes.  What a bore, there was bound to be a queue.  And, of course, a part of her didn’t really want to go.  If only she had the nerve to have said “No”. But she never seemed brave enough to say what she really wanted, besides Leonard loved these weekends away.  She decided not to rush, ducking into the Corner House she ordered a cup of tea; she would take a later train.

She just needed a little time on her own, time to think, time to be herself.  Because she was never herself these days, never simply Virginia. Virginia Stephens?   Where had that little girl gone – and of course since her marriage never would she be Stephens again.  She longed sometimes simply to be a single woman, to be on her own again.  It wasn’t that she didn’t love her husband; of course she did, but had she really have had a choice she might have dared to remain single.  But how could one simply be a single woman of thirty or so, here in the Nineteen-Twenties? Simply impossible, and even more confusing and complicated, she suspected, than this strange state of being married.

And these weekends loomed over her like some swaying sword of Damocles.  Oh, the nonsense of it all; the kow-towing to everyone else, the pretence that they were doing something remarkable, something different – when more and more she felt they were simply treading water.  Never really achieving anything; simply living on past glories.  And the group, this almost famous group, which she had always thought of as a writer’s group was being taken over by dabblers, by dilettantes, by adventurers and even, she feared, womanisers.  Oh, if only it had stayed simple – just a few friends and fellow writers meeting at home to discuss books and the love of writing itself.

And her secret hope, trying to find a new form of writing, an open-hearted honest post-war way of putting into words what truly mattered, what one really felt.  But now they had painters and an economist and even a sculptor joining them.  No longer simply a writing group, more some sort of semi-debauched, slightly notorious, society; because they were already being talked about; put down by the straight-laced; and revered by those who considered themselves as somehow ‘modern’.  The newspapers were even calling them a ‘set’ – whatever that is supposed to mean.  Something not very nice at all, she suspects.

And all she wanted to do, all she had ever wanted to do, was to write; to express herself, to describe things.  And not just pretty flowers or landscapes, but people, and especially women.  She longed to tell her story, all her stories, the ones that had crowded her mind since she could ever remember.  She wanted to let people know that you could talk about feelings, love and passion and ecstasy and sadness and desolation, the whole range of emotions; fears, loves and hates, without being ridiculed, without being censored by male publishers.

“Now Virginia, this is all very well, and of course it goes without saying -brilliantly written – but really, you must think of the consequences.  Is this quite what the public wants to read?  And as I say to all my writers ‘Will it sell, my dear, will it sell?’”.

The sad-eyed and weary looking nippy brought the tea, a hideous yellowy brown with just enough hint of scum to put you off, in an awful thick white cup, with the tiniest lump of sugar precariously perched on the saucer like the meagre comfort it represented.  Really, did no-one know how to make a decent cup of tea these days.  And service?  You might as well forget that, ever since the war the whole concept of service had disappeared.  Surliness, sheer rudery everywhere.  It wasn’t that one wanted servitude – just a smile would do.

Oh well.  I suspect her life is pretty hideous too.  At least mine is comfortable I suppose, but little real comfort that gives me.  I am as trapped in my petticoats as she in her pinny; I wonder if she reflects on her pointless life as I do.  Oh, why am I never really happy?  Always far too self-conscious to let myself go and simply enjoy the moment.  Happiness?  That most elusive of states; it is almost as if the realisation of happiness is also its destroyer.  As soon as one feels that one might be actually ‘happy’ – the spell is broken and one’s mind is swamped by those bad thoughts again.  Oh, my bad-dog thoughts, these horrendous harbingers constantly circling my poor tired mind – if only I could dispel them for a few moments.  Just to sit in the sun somewhere with no thoughts at all – how wonderful that might be.

But I never seem to have enough time on my own.  There is always so much to see to; the house, the wretched servants, the bills to be paid.  I was never cut out to be a wife.  All I ever wanted was to be left alone, to have somewhere I could retreat to, a room really – that’s all I have ever wanted.  Somewhere, maybe with a window – a view, a garden to drift into when the words won’t come, a desk, a chair; a vase with a few hand-picked daisies, a handful of books.   And paper.  Of course, heaps, reams of fresh white virgin paper, and my trusty Parker pen.  Just leave me, bolt the door and lock me here for days if you must – but just let me write.

I need to get it all down before it is lost, every passing thought, each delicate whimsical recollection, it is all valuable.  It is all me, all this ‘nonsense whirling around in my head’ – as Leonard smilingly dismisses it – I must find a new way of writing, of capturing what it is to be alive, to be a woman, to be thirty, to have never had and never wanted a child.  But to be an equal to men, a reflection, a counter-balance, not better or worse or superior or subservient – but equal.

Vanessa says that’s all poppycock; but then Vanessa is a painter.  Can anyone tell the sex of the artist from the finished work, are the brush strokes more delicate, the colours more vivid?  But writing – oh those publishers simply label you as a woman’s writer; only fit for other women to read.  But I want everyone to read. Women to know that someone understands us, and has managed to encapsulate how we are – and men to marvel, to wonder at the world we inhabit.

But truly, the group is too large, too many distractions, too much drinking, too much flirting, too little real attempt to create something new.  Maybe I shall simply not go this time, stay home in Bloomsbury; telegram to say I was feeling poorly.  But not too poorly, I don’t want Leonard rushing back and making sure I see a Doctor.  It isn’t a Doctor I need; it is aloneness, it is solitude I crave.

Goodness is that the time.  Must rush, or I will be late.  And the gorgeous Vita will be there this weekend.  I haven’t seen the Sackville-Wests for ages.  My, Vita really is such a beauty.  So vivacious, so outre, so scrumptious.  Why – if I were a man – I could barely resist her.  The way she half-smiles at you, you could just eat her.  Mustn’t think like that though, far too dangerous.  The group is outrageous enough without that sort of thing.

You can never see the nippy when you want her. I’ll just leave tuppence here next to my cup and dash off.  I wonder what we will talk about this time?  Will Lytton be there, with his florid curlicue style, or Forster – just back from India.  I do hope so.  Despite what I sometimes think I do love them all really.  My scatty sister Vanessa and her husband Clive – always predictable Clive.  Dear mad Lytton of course, Keynes the sly old dog and Roger, of course lovely Roger, and my dear long-suffering Leonard.   And the weather is so warm maybe we can spend a few hours on the beach this time.

My, what a difficult and complicated old World.  All these wonderful friends, the special writing group – and yet still I crave a little space, a room even to just sit and write in.

Quick, I must run for the train. and I really cannot face another horrid tea or the sad face of that tired little nippy again.  I must remember her – pop her into a story somewhere.  That downcast little face. Ah here she is.

 

“Don’t I know you?” the nippy asks, clearing away the crockery “Ain’t I seen your face in the papers?”

“You might have.  I am Virginia, Virginia Woolf.  I am a writer.  Maybe you have read one of my novels.”

“Naah.  Sorry. Never ‘eard of yer.  Must have muddled you up with someone famous”

My Record Collection 81

Dylan – The Glory Years

Well it was 1974, and Dylan hadn’t had a critically well-received album for 9 years – though I loved almost everything he did in the late 60’s.  Where had Dylan gone, where was that surreal poet, that voice of a generation?  Trying to be normal maybe.  Whatever – his marriage to Sara was breaking up and he wrote a batch of songs where he bared his heart, slightly disguised of course.  These are among the best songs he ever wrote, and he recorded them very simply, mostly acoustic guitar, drums and base in the backgaound – and his signature harmonica.  But it is the voice that makes Blood On The Tracks such a superb record.  It is gentle and sad and occasionally raging and yet so expressive – and still that familiar nasal twang which irritated some and thrilled the rest of us.  This really is a wonderful record.  I can’t stop listening to it – as soon as it is finished, I put it back on.  Best songs – all of them really.  We start with ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ followed by ‘A Simple Twist Of Fate’ with his emphasis on the word in the line before rhyming with Fate – simply beautiful.  ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ tells of a lost love. ‘Idiot Wind’ is a raging angry yet sorry song – one of his best. ‘You’re Gonna make me Lonesome When you Go’ is more cheerful and yet… ‘Meet me In The Morning’ is the only slightly under-par song – but then it is followed by the saga/weird and funny tale of ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’; ‘if You See Her Say Hello’ – the saddest of farewells, and then the monumental ‘Shelter From the Storm’ and ends with the wry reflection on life ‘Buckets Of Rain’.  If anyone out there doubts Dylan – just go on youtube and play Blood On The Tracks.

He followed this with another classic – Desire – the following year.  This was more Spanish in flavor and featured electric violin played by Scarlet Riviera, who he apparently stopped as he was passing in New York; she was carrying a violin case, and he asked her to play on his next album.  Well, she certainly leant a nice flavor to this batch of songs, many co-written with Jacques Levy, who persuaded Dylan to overcome writer’s block by telling stories in his songs.  The best of these is ‘Isis’ – a fantastic tale of tomb-robbing and love and death.  Also a sort-of protest song ‘Hurricane’ about a wrongly jailed black boxer – brilliant lyrics and a great tune. The album also featured ‘One More Cup Of Coffee[ and ‘Oh Sister’, a long track about a gangster ‘Joey’ and a love-letter to recently departed ‘Sara.’  All in all, a wonderful record.  As soon as it was finished in late ’75 Bob convened a group of friends and musicians and begun the Rolling thunder Tour, which was part travelling circus, part concert, part film Dylan was making and a great triumph.  Later in ’76 as the tour ended he released another live album Hard Rain from the tour.  This was superseded years later by one of The Bootleg Series (see much later) and a 14 disc Rolling Thunder Revue set I have just ordered – too much money, too little sense – but hey.  Re-listening though, Hard Rain is still incredible -such different and alive performances – and Dylan seems for the first time in years to be actually enjoying himself.

In 1978 came Street Legal, which critics disliked but I really loved, I saw him at Hammersmith Odeon just after this came out and loved the show.  Dylan was however moving much more into mainstream rock, with girlie choruses and horn sections.  Still this record has some very good songs on it.   The opening number ‘Changing Of The Guard’ is probably my fave, but I also like ‘Baby Please Stop Crying’ and ‘Is Your Love In Vain’.  It is still quite an underrated record – especially considering some of the mid-eighties stuff he recorded.

A live double recorded just before the release of Street Legal came out later in ’78.  At Budokan.  Bob had a world tour in early ’78; this concert was in Japan.  Wow, what a revelation. Bob had started to re-imagine his early songs for a Big Band sound; no longer the harsh aggressive rock and roll of ’66, but a gentler more rounded complete sound.  I love this album, great new arrangements of songs like Tambourine Man.  Just a joy – and if you need any live Dylan album this is the one to get.  But as usual with Dylan – he was always searching.  And in 1979 he found what he thought he was looking for.  George Harrison found Eastern Mysticism but Bob found Jesus.  Born a Jew, he became a Christian – and being Bob, he didn’t do it half-heartedly.  He wrote songs and sung about it. The next few years were the Christian years.

 Bob Dylan At Budokan

Rory Stewart -The Tory Leader After The Next One

Or the one after that maybe.  What has happened to the Tory party, that they can even contemplate making Boris Johnson Prime Minister?  To half the country he is a clown, to the other a scoundrel.  Time was when the Conservatives lived up to their name – they conserved things, they accepted progress in Society and simply held the line against further advances.  Not that I could ever support them, but you felt you could (more or less) live with them being in power now and then.  However, since the Thatcher revolution they are now the destroyers extraordinaire; not content with selling off loads of Public Services, with mostly disastrous consequences, and pushing swathes of decent cheap council housing into the expensive rented sector, they want to destroy the NHS and public education too.  And now a fervour has overtaken them, egged on by a rabid press and billionaires seeking tax avoidance – they are desperate to leave Europe.  No matter what the consequences it seems.  Where once a slow dis-entanglement but still retaining good trade with the EU was planned, now only a complete break will suffice.  The harder the Brexit the happier they seem.

And appeasement has no chance.  The half-reasonable appeals by Hunt and Gove are falling on deaf ears and the pathetic bleats of Javid are simply noises off-stage.  Only Rory speaks with any sense.  He is campaigning just as hard for common-sense and realism – and is pulling no punches either.  He knows, as in their hearts the others must do, that Brexit will be a disaster.  But they are all terrified of Farage and are competing to out-Brexit the arch Brexiteer.  Good Luck with that.

But let us also be realistic.  At the moment Rory stands no chance of winning, and is unlikely to be in the final two, though he may well survive the vote on Tuesday where Raab and Javid will stumble.

One can only hope that at some point common-sense will breakout – but don’t hold your breath.  Maybe after the disaster that Boris will bring on us and losing an election, they will choose him – but we may have to wait a bit longer for that.  The Brexiteers will never admit they were wrong – it will all be someone else’s fault; if only we had been tougher with Europe; if only we had refused to negotiate anything; if only we had listened to them..,(oh, we did, didn’t we)

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My Record Collection 79

Dylan – The Drifter Did Escape

Almost 18 months and no new Dylan album, no live shows, no news at all.   But late in ’67, the year of hippy music an album slid out with little fuss at all.  John Wesley Harding was the title, and a boring blurry black and white photo cover.   And the most startling thing was the new voice, the new style; no more raucous rock’n’roll, no more snarling put-down songs, but a gentler, maybe more philosophical sound.  And the songs were full of religious imagery and outlaws, and seemed from far further back in time.  Almost a timeless folk sound with very few choruses, no more emphasizing certain words, and the songs are almost a piece – as if they were a song cycle.  The public were bemused – they wanted another Blonde on Blonde, they craved the wild poetic imagery, they wanted the old Bob back – but they would have to wait several years for that.  Actually, I now love this album, this religious-sounding slower Bob Dylan – the songs themselves drift in and out – it is the overall sound, the mood of the album I love.  I have stopped second-guessing his motives – maybe he was trying to lose the Messiah mantle – testing us possibly, or did he just feel like a change.  Most probably he was, as always, following his muse.  Favourite songs ‘All Along The Watchtower’ soon to be immortalized by Jimi Hendrix, ‘Drifters Escape’ ‘I dreamed I saw St. Augustine’ and ‘Frankie Lee and Judas Priest’  (so that’s where they got the name from).  The album closes with two different style songs – pure country ballads, of which ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ is the best and has been recorded by many artists.

So Bob – where to now?  The last two songs were the pointer.  Nashville Skyline followed a year later – though in a time line the Basement Tapes were laid down around the same time.  These were ‘home recordings’ made with the Band – his recent backing band at their house in upstate New York.  Trying to find a new Americana, mixing old styles with mostly nonsense lyrics.  The album came out (by popular demand) in the late 70’s but it had been bootlegged already, and was even one of the Bootleg Series, which came out this century as Dylan and his admirers searched the archives.  The official album is quite disappointing really; but interesting if only to see what Bob was doing while not appearing live anywhere.  To be honest this is a waste of time as an album – but the public were desperate and CBS cashed in.

But in ’69, eighteen months later, Dylan confused us even more by going completely country with Nashville Skyline. I loved this record though; I think the thing that shines through, as well as the very professional playing and Bob’s singing voice which was suddenly incredibly good, was the quality of the songs. By any standards this was a brilliant country album, especially as Johnny Cash joins him for 2 numbers. Played by Nashville session stars the songs are deceptively simple, and yet as ever with Dylan, therein lies their brilliance.  The big hit ‘Lay Lady Lay’ has very few words but is incredibly catchy – try not singing along with it.  My favourite track is ‘I Threw It All Away’ – a tragic song of love lost.  So, what was Bob up to; was he trying to lose his fans, or show us another side, or did he just follow his muse and sing this batch of songs in a country style.  Whatever he was thinking it was nothing to the album which emerged a year later.  Self Portrait was another double – but this was a million miles away from Blonde on Blonde.  There were a few new songs, sung very much in a traditional country/folk style; some sung twice.  An instrumental ‘Wigwam’ which has a brilliant melody (why no words, Bob?), a couple of poor live performances from his appearance with the Band at The Isle of Wight the year before, and a few covers, some done in a traditional syrupy arrangement, some brilliant.  A complete mixed bag with apparently no cohesion or sense to it.  At first, I like many others couldn’t get to like it, but now it is simply sublime – in all its imperfections.  I think Bob was simply saying – “This One Is For Me”.  It was just what he fancied doing at the time.  Maybe he had writers block, but I don’t think so at all.  This was deliberate.  Critics slated it, (What is this shit – declared Rolling Stone) but slowly it has gained approval and sits proudly in his canon.  My best moments – the sublime opener ‘All The Tired Horses’ with it’s one line refrain and beautiful arrangement; ‘Early Morning Rain’ – where Dylan sung so sweetly; ‘Copper Kettle’ a song about illicit whiskey making; ‘The Mighty Quinn’ which was a big hit for Manfred Mann (see M0; The instrumental ‘WigWam’ – but best of all was ‘The Boxer’ where Bob sings Paul Simon’s song in two voices, not quite synchronized, overlapping each other, like some amateur duet – but it works incredibly well.  Strangely this has grown to be a real favourite of mine.

Later the same year he released New Morning, which looked like a new beginning.  But before that we have to look at a record which CBS put out in 1974, when Dylan moved labels for Planet Waves (see later).  It was simply called Dylan – and has long been unavailable.  It was tracks which Dylan maybe recorded for Self Portrait but rejected.  I have the tracks on a record called A Fool Such As I, which also includes tracks which Bob recorded with Johnny Cash around the same time.  It is again quite interesting; it seems Bob was taking a break from the serious business of being a Star and just enjoying himself making any music he fancied.  The cover versions which originally made up the Dylan spoiler album are not really so good, maybe they were abandoned early takes, or simply warm-up songs.  Whatever, this was not an officially sanctioned Dylan album and when he returned to CBS they deleted the album and it hasn’t been officially available on CD.  But the handful of Cash/Dylan songs are a different matter altogether; Cash had sung a duet on Nashville Skyline, and they obviously recorded a whole batch of mostly Cash songs at some point in the late Sixties.  One has to ask why he didn’t make an album of these obviously single takes – but then, part of the appeal of Dylan is his lack of ever being obvious.  A nice record however.

Just four months after the poorly received Self Portrait came New Morning.   This was perceived at the time as a return to the Dylan we loved in the mid-sixties.  But it wasn’t really.  There are a handful of decent songs and quite a few under-par ones.  But at least Dylan’s voice was back to its normal nasal tone, and all original songs too.  Best are ‘If Not For You’, the title track and ‘Winterlude’  The whole record feels very much a downer though, no real enthusiasm at all.

So in four years we had quite a variety of styles – and none quite sounding like the old Bob Dylan.  When, if ever, would he return?  And then there were three years of almost total silence….

Nashville Skyline

Topsier and Turvier

The world seems to be getting crazier – or is it just old age creeping in.  I do sometimes wonder what younger people think about it, but talking to my children they seem to be just as confused as I am.  Sometimes when you are in the middle of a storm you cannot actually tell which way the wind is blowing.  Firstly – three elections in a month have thrown up quite contradictory results.  First, the local elections, mostly in rural areas saw the Tories wiped out.  Labour lost a few seats and won a handful too.  The big winners were the LibDems; the argument seemed to be that they at least had a clear Remain message.  But more people voted for Remain parties than leave – just.  However not all seats were voting, London certainly wasn’t and all I could extrapolate was that this was largely an anti-Tory vote. The European elections were won by the newly formed Brexit party and the two main parties suffered; but we have seen this several times before.  Strangely the very people who declare that the EU is undemocratic consistently vote for parties who have no interest in Europe at all.  Last night Labour won the Peterborough by-election, beating the Brexit party by 680 votes on a 48% turnout.  The bookies and all the press had predicted a wipeout of both Labour and the Tories.  But even the Tories managed a few thousand votes.  Normal service not resumed – but maybe the success of Farage is dented at least.

It is now impossible to predict the result of ANY election.

The Tories are not quite in free-fall, but they are in trouble – whoever becomes their next leader and P.M. will face the same dilemma over Brexit.  Some are promising no-deal and even proroguing Parliament to force it through.  And yet almost daily we are getting news of our manufacturing disappearing because of Brexit uncertainty.

There are Tories now openly calling for de-selection of Tory M.P.s not worshipping Brexit; the very same Tories who were so outraged by Labour activists talking about de-selecting more Centrist Labour M.P.s.   And Labour are still sending out conflicting messages on Brexit; how long this can hold is debatable.

And I had to almost laugh when I caught Trump arguing against gun control by saying that when the terrorists massacred people at The Bataclan in Paris that if just a few French people had guns on them they might have killed the gunmen.  Piers Morgan, the interviewer pointed out that more people are killed by guns in America every day than died at Bataclan.  The gunslinger replied that knife crime was so bad that London hospitals were swimming in blood from knife crime.  What a lunatic.  And don’t even get me started on Iran or China trade wars.  I truly believe that a huge Financial Recession is just around the corner…