Archive for July, 2018

29
Jul
18

Bob Dylan “Street Legal”

I’ve never heard this record before and I’m guessing, but not sure, that when it came out in 1978—the year I graduated from high school and was avidly reading Rolling Stone magazine—it got a less than favorable review—or maybe I was just over Dylan by that time, temporarily—or maybe his previous album was too weird and inscrutable—who knows. Anyway, the first thing that’s striking to me is that in the live performance, black and white, photo on the back, he looks just like Freddie Mercury—did people, when this record was released, talk or write excessively about about how he looks just like Freddie Mercury? It looks like a picture from the Renaldo and Clara/”Rolling Thunder Revue” era, but wasn’t that years earlier? Anyway, it’s just a bit of a mystery. On the front cover there’s a picture of him standing in a doorway wearing some really awful jeans and a black leather vest, looking left, down the street like he’s waiting for someone, or a bus.

“Baby Stop Crying” is a nice song, pretty soulful (though the sax break does sound a little St. Elmo’s Fire (my shorthand for lameness). I just noticed the photos on the inside sleeve, two out-of-focus, B&W photos of Bob and a dark skinned man (really wish I had the Big I to look this up) at what looks like a really great tea shop. Bob’s wearing that polkadot shirt you see in a lot of photos (I’m assuming he had more than one, but who knows). It almost looks like a much earlier photo. Can you date Dylan pics by his shirts?

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24
Jul
18

John Prine “Diamonds in the Rough”

This might be the first John Prine record I bought, many years ago, though I’m pretty sure I’d heard John Prine via some other source first, though I can’t remember now, when or where. Anyway, I had bought a thrift-store copy of this one, with a water-damaged cover, and I didn’t expect much, and by the time I got to the song “The Frying Pan” I was hooked and it became regular rotation listening, and I even learned to play some of the songs just because I liked them so much—or at least, “Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Drink After You”—which has to be about the best simple tavern crowdpleaser I can imagine. There is some good stuff on this record, indeed diamonds—“Worth its weight in gold,” as Marilyn Monroe says in Some Like it Hot. The picture on the cover of, I guess, a fairly young John Prine, is during a live show bathed in that horrible red performance light, and he looks like someone else, though I’m not exactly sure who—another musician, an actor, or a friend, I can’t place it, but I’m glad I got this record when I did, even though it was probably about 30 years after it came out, because it’s made my life better.

21
Jul
18

Silver Jews “American Water”

There is more minimal packaging, I suppose, but not much—the cover looks like a computer drawing (or could be a painting, but as a reproduction it looks like computer art) of a Western landscape with a pink highway extending to a butte strewn grey horizon. All letters are in a font called “not my favorite font”—the same font on other Silver Jews records, I think. Fonts were never a big deal until there were choices, and then came the problems. This record, on Drag City records in Chicago, is from 1998 (I only know that later, when the one thing I’m later using the internet for is the dates, because inexplicably, a lot of records contain no date whatsoever, which really kind of drives me crazy). There is absolutely no information on this record except the name of the band, the name of the album, the song titles, and their times. Oh, wait, I just discovered a one page insert (I swear that it wasn’t in there before—is someone fucking with me?) with lyrics, some drawings, copyright date, recording info, and five names of band members. There’s David Berman, of course, and this incarnation of the band included Stephen Malkmus, who co-wrote a couple of songs. I’m not sure where this record sits in the Silver Jews timeline, but it’s not the first and not the last.

This is a remarkably good record, and the only reason it’s not my favorite is because I’m pretty sure I like that Bright Flight one more, but that could change the more I listen to this. David Berman’s lyrics are so good it’s worth your time listening for awhile (you can generally understand them when he sings) then going back to read along while listening, because it’s probably going to increase the depth of your understanding. Try “Buckingham Rabbit”—holy shit. A couple of songs are co-written by Malkmus and you can tell, they sound like his kind of songs, and I think on those they sing together, like a duel lead vocal. I might be wrong, I wasn’t there. My favorite is “Blue Arrangements”—listen to the first two verses, the lyrics with the sleepy singing, the guitar, and if you don’t fall in love with that combination of words, images, sounds etc., you and I aren’t going to be taking a cross-county car trip anytime soon.

18
Jul
18

Fleetwood Mac “Mystery to Me”

This is a record that should be woefully familiar to record collectors because its heinous cover will at some point assault you during your journeys; it’s a giant stoner drawing of some kind of baboon eating a cake, and it folds out to show him in conversation with an equally hideous, bald, bearded, scholarly man. I don’t know what it all means, but being hungry, the cake with the candied red and green cherries actually looks pretty good. The inside photo is much nicer, of five hairy hippies in a pyramid huddle looking slightly upward at the camera. I recognize Christine and John McVie, the “Mac” part of the band, and Mick Fleetwood, who I believe is like eight feet tall; he’s one of those guys who makes whatever drums he’s playing look like a kids’ drum-set, and like he should probably be out slaying dragons instead. The other two are the guitarists, Bob Welch and Bob Weston (I wish they were called Bob W.1 and Bob W.2) who I don’t recognize, even though I do remember a prominent Bob Welch solo record from, I think, the Seventies, with him on the cover with those big, graduated rose lens glasses, and an open shirt, generally reeking of coke. Like many people, I first came upon Fleetwood Mac with those two records with black and white covers (I think) around the time that Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham became prominent members (I think—it’s been a few years since I’ve gone back to those records, though songs from them will be over-played into the unforeseeable future).

Actually, I’m kind of glad I’m in this cabin in the “North Woods” because I could easily go into a Fleetwood Mac rabbit hole if I had free use of the internet—and I could find the marijuana I know is around here somewhere. In fact, had they known when they formed the band, Rabbithole would have been a better name. Was this the band that had two couples that eventually broke up and dated each other? 1973 was a good year for music and movies, one of my favorite years, but there is not a lot on first listening to this record that’s producing mental notes to go back for a second listening; it’s already sounding like a chore, and choosing between this and doing the dishes… About half the songs are written by Bob Welch, and he is also singing on half or more—I’m assuming that’s him. Even when Christine McVie sings there isn’t much of a glimmer of the later Fleetwood Mac (to me, I’m sure purists would disagree). I wonder if someone has written a decent biography of the band—that might be kind of fascinating. Hey, here’s a cover song, “For Your Love”—which I recognize, of course, from the Yardbirds; I’m afraid it’s weak, especially the wanky guitar. Oh well, some paths in the woods circle right back to the cabin after about five minutes and you realize you’d rather just be making pancakes.

10
Jul
18

Dave Van Ronk “Dave Van Ronk Sings Ballads, Blues & a Spiritual”

I never really listened to any Dave Van Ronk before, aware of him primarily as a name in the early Sixties (was it late-Fifties, as well?) NYC folk music scene—a time, place, and music I’ve pretty much ignored as not being my bag, exactly. But DVR had come to the forefront of my attention because of the movie, Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), which was supposedly inspired primarily by Dave Van Ronk—though the main character, Llewyn Davis, doesn’t seem to resemble DVR in appearance, sound, or biography—at least not too much, to my knowledge. Anyway, these are some pretty serious folk tunes, performed well and reverently, and this is a serious record, put out by the label DOXY, full title: “dave van ronk accompanying himself on guitar sings ballads, blues & a spiritual”—and includes liner notes by DVR and detailed track by track analysis on the inner sleeve by Kenneth S. Goldstein.

I just listened to the whole record and it’s very good, surprisingly compelling. (I mean, for me, not a real cheerleader for traditionally played traditional music and seriousness, etc.) DVR’s voice is pretty great—it’s unique and expressive, and I especially like the more blues oriented stuff. Anyway, I’m not going to get too much into the history of this right now; there are lyrics and notes about each song on the inner sleeve, but I’m not taking a college course here! It’s just nice to know that I feel like I’ve had a big, heaping, hot meal of Van Ronk, and next time he’s on the radio I won’t change the station.




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