Archive for the 'Folk' Category

14
Jun
18

Bob Dylan “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits”

If you subscribe to the theory that BD died after Blonde on Blonde (1966) and was replaced with “Dylan 2,” then this record makes a lot more sense—the cover is a big, dark, head silhouette (which decades later would become a “thing”)—which makes you think of nothing so much as a statue, a monument to a legend, dead and gone, and the white lettering and song titles right over his head announce nothing so much as “this is a product.” The photo (BD in concert, blowing on that dreaded harmonica) looks oddly contemporary—even more so if you imagine he’s looking closely at a smartphone, which is how I’d suspect kids these days would interpret it.

This is possibly the most unlistenable Dylan record for me, as it starts with the dreaded “Rainy Day Women” and is pretty much made up of the songs that have been played to death—which I don’t even think are close to his best songs. About the only one here I can still stand to listen to is “Like a Rolling Stone,” and then only on Nostalgia Thursday, and then preferably with a frivolous drink. If I had the internet right now I’d look up how many times in articles over the years someone has said, “I wish at an early age someone had stuck that harmonica right up his ass,” or “He really puts the ‘harm’ in harmonica.” I suppose it’s supposed to sound like a train whistle, but personally, any time someone tries to make a rock song sound like a train, I’m yawning like the Grand Canyon, and even a mention of a train has me nodding off. And I love trains.

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08
May
18

The Byrds “Younger Than Yesterday”

I have spent my life trying not to have to try to figure out The Byrds; it might have been different if I’d started way back, maybe not from the beginning, but maybe when this 1967 album came out, their fourth. I could have joined the cult, been indoctrinated, socialized, whatever. It’s kind of like with any cult, if you’re brainwashed from childhood, the belief is second nature, and of course even inescapable. But it you’re not, none of it ever really makes sense. The Byrds have had so many members come and go over the years, they may as well be a group with a history like the Masons, and in fact, there could be arguments made that The Byrds and the Masons are one in the same. This brilliant, groundbreaking album comes off the tracks at the end of the “CTA – 102” when we hear the simultaneous forward and tape reversed voice of Satan (which sounds suspiciously like the garden gnome episode of “Night Gallery”)—and the album then starts traveling in reverse (the next song is “Renaissance Fair”).

I was finally coerced to approach this record by my ex-employer, Anthony Franciosa (not the actor, but the editor of The Moss Problemon which this review is simulcast), and even though the compensation is minimal, Tony convinced me over breakfast at his regular hangout, Foxy’s Restaurant, in Glendale (part of the greater Los Angeles). One of his arguments was that the song “Thoughts and Words” sounds exactly like a Bob Lind number (who I just wrote about) and then goes into a chorus that sounds exactly like someone else (on the tip of my tongue—I’ll think of it and fill it in here later). Then it uses the backwards guitars, which never sounded good to me, but still, I like the idea. That technique is taken to an extreme with “Mind Gardens,” which is one of those hippie numbers that drugs (LSD?) allow the artist to dispense with harmony, melody, rhythm, structure, rhyme, story, or any narrative sense at all. Long live 1967! The funny thing is that I always thought the song was called “Mings Garden” and was about Moo Goo Gai Pan.

“My Back Pages” is another one of those Bob Dylan songs that is much better than he played it. And I’m not one of those Dylan haters, in fact I’m writing the first book ever about him, and he’s sitting across the table from me right now, and I’m only interrupting our interview to write this quick review. What many people don’t realize is that The Byrds were actually several groups at once, and one piece of evidence for that is the cover of this record, with images of them in the future, after having passed away, returning as ghosts. All dead before their time, they did return, were accused of inventing “country-rock”—but never convicted. Actually, I’m not sure if the back of this record, with a badly done collage of old band photos (or someone else’s high school yearbook, perhaps), was actually like this (it looks like drawn on goatees, red lipstick, and bleeding tears) or if some punk kid altered it with marker. Because it may have been the inspiration for The Rolling Stones “Some Girls”—if the latter is not true.

The Byrds are and were Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Clark, Gene Clark, Gene Clarke, Mitchel Clark, Gene Clarke, Michel Clarke, and identical twins Jim and Roger McGuinn. An earlier incantation of the band was known as the Yardbyrds, and here they’ve revived their hit, “Have You Seen Her Face.” The song “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” so ingrained in the culture it won’t come out even with Formula 409 at least satisfies the “song with ‘rock’n’roll’ in the title” requirement for consideration for inauguration into the Rock Hall o’ Fame, in Cleveland, Ohio. Another odd fact is that the band’s name upside down and backwards is “Spjh8.” Someone has released a record called “Older Than Tomorrow”—but it violated the conditions of its parole before it could drop. All other facets of this record and band, including the songs I haven’t touched on, the concept, the attitude, and the execution, can only be described as seminal. If not kaleidoscopic.

19
Mar
18

Bob Lind “Don’t Be Concerned”

I picked up this album knowing nothing about Bob Lind except that he’s probably that young, clean-cut guy on the cover with an acoustic guitar, so I assumed it would be acoustic guitar and singer music, but I was wrong, as there is a full band and instrumentation on these songs, and in fact a very big sound. I don’t know who is playing on it, so I’ll assume studio musicians. I like the sound, and I’m thinking: I would have liked it less if it was just Bob Lind and his guitar, though we’ll never know, now, will we? The record is from 1966, on the World Pacific label. There are liner notes on the back by Jack Nitzsche, who also produced and arranged the record, and is quite a familiar name, though I realized I don’t know that much about him—and just got sidetracked reading about him on the internet—and you should, too. He worked with Phil Spector, which doesn’t surprise me, listening to this record. I like the liner notes a lot, too, pretty funny, but then ending with this lovely sentiment (about Bob Lind): “His songs will remind you of summer, a love you once knew, autumn smells, bad times turned good with age, and yourself.” I’ll tell you right now, I’m going to steal the phrase “Bad Times Turned Good With Age”—in fact, that might end up being the title of my autobiography.

While you’re reading about Jack Nitzsche, check out the same internet for info about Bob Lind, because it’s pretty fascinating. His Wikipedia page doesn’t have any of those warnings like, “This reads like a novel”—but it does, kind of; dude has had a pretty interesting life. He also has a website, and as of this writing is out there on tour—so if you’re lucky you could check him out—maybe even have a word with him. Someone made a documentary about him, too, which I’m going to try to find after writing this—I don’t want to keep being sidetracked—back to the album. Apparently the song “Elusive Butterfly” preceded the album and was a huge hit, and was covered by a ton of big name artists. Somehow, even though I’m kind of old, the song has eluded me, over the years, and even now, I find its charms elusive. I’ll have to listen more closely to the lyrics, later.

As for the rest of the songs, I like several of them better than “Elusive Butterfly.” The second song, “Mister Zero,” has a nice atmosphere, with some haunting strings, and lyrics that go on bizarrely long. Then the next one, “You Should Have Seen It,” is even better, with this kind of forward urgency and big sound. More interesting lyrics, and same with the next one—I’m not taking the time to take in all the lyrics on this listening, but I’m making a mental note to sit down with it sometime. This is definitely a record that I’ll put on again, on purpose. Hey, then the next one, “Drifter’s Sunrise”—this one is very good too, and has a line about drinking coffee, which is sure to get through to Speen.

Side two has three songs that feature women’s names (Julie, Dale Ann, and Cheryl). Assuming these were written about real people, I wonder if any of them were jealous. Then my favorite song on the album, “It Wasn’t Just the Morning”—which is kind of scary, and addresses someone called “you.” Which is common for songs, now that I think of it. I’d imagine it’s hard to be romantically involved with these romantic singers. Which got me to thinking: have I ever felt like I was referred to in a song (not directly by name, of course, but possibly)? Yes, I have, and it’s kind of a weird experience!

Now back to the song, “Elusive Butterfly.” Okay, it’s about how love is elusive like a butterfly. Kind of lame, but I read somewhere that there were lots and lots more verses, so who knows—it could have gotten more interesting—but apparently they wanted it shorter, to have a chance at being a hit record—and only Bob Dylan was allowed to do those songs with like 80 verses. I want to hear about how he catches the elusive butterfly (of love) in a net, and then tries to take it out of the net and accidentally rips its wings off, or pins it to a board and then realizes it’s no longer beautiful, wild, and free—just a sad, gruesome taxidermy version of what was once beautiful. That’s a love metaphor I could get behind.

26
Jan
18

Beck “One Foot In The Grave”

I was happy to see a Beck album squirreled away here in this North Woods cabin, because it’s been drawn to my attention how unfairly I treated Beck in earlier reviews (just as an aside)—as well as Jeff Beck—and I say unfairly, because I’m actually a fan of both those artists, but they are both an easy target for some cheap laughs. But I do have the highest respect for both, and neither of them can help it if they have to share a name with Glenn Beck. What is Beck’s real name, by the way? Since the internet is still out, I’m going to guess: Johnny Langetree. I’m probably not far off. This 1994 album is on K Records, my favorite label of all time—and this was released around the time his first really huge record came out and made him huge—I can’t remember the name of it, but Beck fans know the one. I’ve never heard of this one. It’s what would be considered “Lo-Fi” I think, and I love the sound—a lot of it is like a guy with a guitar in a room—but some songs with additional instruments and musicians—and both approaches work here.

The front and back covers are black and white photos of Beck, looking very young, outside with bare trees in the background. On the front cover there’s an underage looking blond guy, and I have no idea who he is—maybe in town for a Gus Van Sant shoot. They’re standing in what could be a cemetery (which would be appropriate, given the title), in front of what could be a coffin, with what looks like a children’s book sitting on it. Beck is holding a Silvertone acoustic guitar, and he’s wearing a Kool-Aid scarf, which he probably didn’t get paid enough to wear, and maybe didn’t even make the Kool-Aid big-wigs happy, at least until his next record went gold (or was it called “Gold?”)

The record starts with a traditional blues number, and for my money (which would be $0, as I didn’t buy this) it is a perfectly nice cover—though if the whole record was more of the same, I wouldn’t be real thrilled. I imagine there were blues snobs who took the record off after this song and never even heard the rest. Well, that’s your loss, because the next song, “Sleeping Bag”—with some simple drums and slide guitar—would have made me fall in love with Beck, had I heard this back a quarter century ago. There are a couple of songs where he’s joined singing by Calvin Johnson (you can’t mistake his voice)—the singer for one of my favorite all-time bands, Beat Happening (and producer of this record). The song “Asshole” is another standout, not just for the why-haven’t-I-written-a-song-called “Asshole” title, but for its catchiness, as well.

There’s one song that kind of sounds like people doing their interpretation of early Pavement, and another song that makes me think of the Silver Jews. The album cover doesn’t credit the additional musicians, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were—or later became—well known for this or that (I mean, hopefully, good things, like music!) “Girl Dreams” is another good one. And “Painted Eyelids.” And the last one. Holy shit, this is a good record! And I might have missed out if I’d been able to go online and get tickets to the opera—that is, if there was opera around here, and I liked opera. Is that a Datsun, blurred in the picture on the back? Does anybody remember Datsuns?

18
Dec
17

Bob Dylan “Self Portrait”

This is a double album that—in the tradition of double albums—announces the celebration of an explosion of creativity that is unable to be contained on the traditional single LP format. Or maybe it’s something else entirely, seeing how it’s Bob Dylan, and who ever knows what he’s thinking? There is a self-portrait painting of him on the cover with no words or frame. The album opens and there’s a list of the songs, on four sides, and also a list of 50 names; on further inspection, this appears not to be a random list from the phonebook, but likely a list of musical collaborators. Quickly glancing through the alphabetical list I see: Charlie Daniels, Al Kooper, David Bromberg, all the members of “The Band,” and many more names I recognize, and many more that I don’t.

I never heard this one before. It sounds like a Bob Dylan record, kind of, or maybe a parody of one, which you arguably could say about any Bob Dylan record. It’s kind of amazing, I’ve been listening to this dude for 50 years and I keep hearing stuff I never heard—kind of like the original Star Trek broadcast. There’s a few covers on this record, including: “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” credited to a C.A. Null, who I don’t know, but I know the song as sung by Skeeter Davis, one of my favorites (she has an album by that title). The lyric goes: “I forgot more than you’ll ever know about him.” Which is a woman singing to another woman, a rival, about a man, I believe, and when you change the gender it doesn’t quite work for some reason—but I also like to think of it as a general proclamation, to anyone, about anything.

It’s interesting—I must have been aware of this record—not when it came out when I was ten—but in later years when I started listening to Dylan records—it would have been in the record store bins, maybe even in cut-out bins like Planet Waves always seemed to be—but I avoided this one like a perennial golden turd in the sun. But listening to it now, on my third or fourth time through, I realize I’ve never heard a lot of this stuff and it’s some of the best Bob Dylan I’ve ever heard. It’s kind of like BD’s “Covers Record”—though a lot of the songs he covers are Dylan songs. (Idea: BD should do an entire record of Cat Power songs.) Here lies the best versions of both “Let It Be Me” and “Blue Moon” I’ve ever heard. A lot of this is BD singing in his “Jim Nabors” voice, which I’ve grown to love. Of course, this is the post-death-Dylan, or “second” Dylan, as the theory goes, and the future (1970 thru 2016) looks bright.

13
Dec
17

Leonard Cohen “Songs of Leonard Cohen”

The album cover says “Songs of Leonard Cohen” but the label simply says “Leonard Cohen”—I believe this is his first album. It’s the one with the back cover drawing of a naked, chained woman enveloped in flames and not so subliminal skulls. This is an old, scratchy copy of this record, constant scratchy record sound, which sounds very beautiful to me. Maybe it’s just that it sounds so good, the record, as opposed to the digital version through my computer speakers. If you cannot appreciate the scratchy record, however, I have no use for you—go listen to your digital half-life version, and if you claim to have a superior digital system, well okay, I realize my computer speakers suck, and yours are good, but you could also be spending that money on a half-decent record player and it would sound great.

This record is so much Leonard Cohen upfront that I can imagine thousands or even millions of people who can’t handle it, like oysters, or okra, and also some of these songs are amongst the most over-played songs ever, but if you are lucky enough to get hit by a low branch or something and your perception gets a bit realigned and you can hear the record a-new, you are very lucky indeed, because this is the most amazing collection of great songs on one record maybe ever. Any songwriter could call it a career with any ONE of these songs, and here they all are on this one record. The recording sounds at once very young and very old, like they were a little too much 20-something in their giddiness of recording (it was 1967, after all), but Leonard Cohen’s voice overpowers all of the instrumentation, which is a good thing, and he’s right there in your room. He was that odd person who seemed fully mature at a very young age and then just seemed to get younger from there (maybe we’re all like that, but it’s just not so much on display).

03
Dec
17

Bob McFadden and Dor “The Mummy” / “The Beat Generation”

Oh, no!—another novelty record. I suppose when you’re picking records up at thrift stores and yard sales, that’s what you’re going to get a lot of. These are two very different, but both goofy songs, by Bob McFadden (a singer and voice-actor—most significantly, to me—the voice of Franken Berry) and Dor (stage name for Rod McKuen, who wrote the songs, and was one of the few poets during my lifetime that I recall having household-name status). On “The Mummy” he uses an exaggerated silly monster voice, and the whole deal is not that interesting. I like “The Beat Generation” more, because the affected “hipster” delivery is a lot funnier to me. Also, I had no idea that this is the song that inspired Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation”—which is pretty inspired. This single is taken from the album “Songs Our Mummy Taught Us” which probably includes more of the same, though it does have a song called “Noisy Village.” Ha! Also of note: Bob McFadden shares a birthday with Randy Russell (as well as Edgar Allan Poe, Cindy Sherman, Larry Clark, Dolly Parton, Janis Joplin, one of the Everly Brothers, Frank Anderson, and Franke Martin)! He’s from East Liverpool, Ohio (which should not be confused with Liverpool, England) home of the Elite Diner!




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