One of the great things about Bob Dylan is that he's released so many albums over the years, you can go back and add one of his old discs to your collection each year and still have thirty years before you run out of choices. I'm a Dylan fan; I'm not a Dylan fanatic. Don't get me wrong: when Dylan is very good, he's very, very, very good, and Blood on the Tracks is my favorite album by anyone, and Live 1966 is my favorite live album by anyone. That said, there's a line separating fan to fanatic, where the fanatic can live and breathe in such Dylan missteps as Self Portrait, Live at Budokan, Street Legal, Under a Red Sky, Empire Burlesque, etc.
That's not to say that I don't love some Dylan records that others pan. Nashville Skyline is likely my second favorite Dylan recording, and that's one that many people condemn, both for its pat country style and for Dylan's Kermit-like voice (coming from a short-lived sabattical from smoking). I think New Morning is underrated; I think Oh Mercy has that smokey Lanois sound.
In the last few years, I've quietly bought "classic" Dylan records that somehow I never managed to own. Most recently, I purchased Bringing It All Back Home. I've always found much of Dylan's first electric three records to sound dated -- BIABH, Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde -- with the jangly electric guitars and tambourines. The best songs to me were always the acoustic ones -- "Visions of Johanna," for example. And the albums as a whole just didn't hold up as well as Freewheelin' or Another Side. (Though, of course, I love "Like a Rolling Stone," "Absolutely Sweet Marie," "I Want You," and so on.)
With Bringing It All Back Home, which I listened to on the commute in to work this morning, the best songs here, too, are the acoustic numbers. Whereas "Subterranean Homesick Blues" sounds quaint, and "Maggie's Farm" sounds minor, "She Belongs to Me" -- with that amazing opening, "she's got everything she needs/she's an artist/she don't look back" -- and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" are revelatory, unbelievably frank and beautiful and perfectly accompanied by gently strummed guitar and, on Love Minus Zero, the barest of backup. They're the kind of numbers you can't imagine anyone else pulling off. It's why he was, and is, such an original.
posted by Anon. 9:38 AM
Friend of the devil
There's a great story in the New York Times about the guy tapped to be the new guitarist in the Grateful Dead -- the guy replacing Jerry Garcia. I've never been a Dead fan -- I've always shied away from jams -- but there are certainly songs, like "Bertha" and "Ripple," which even I grudgingly admit to enjoying.
posted by Anon. 5:30 PM
Can one man live by one blog alone?
Nay, which is why I've started a new blog about my eating habits in Los Angeles. It's called eatLA. If you're an LA resident, or coming to town, you might find it amusing. Check it out.
posted by Anon. 11:53 AM
Music conversation at work
Somehow, the Traveling Wilburys came up in the room today. Which lead to the inevitable next question: "What was the ELO guy doing in the Wilburys?" This prompted the inevitable conversation about the pluses and minuses, the strengths and demerits, of Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra. It also prompted more than one person to take a stab at singing "Living Thing," "Mr. Blue Sky," and "Telephone Line." (FYI, "Living Thing" is my favorite ELO song, and I almost forgave PT Anderson for the excesses of Boogie Nights because he started the final credits with that snappy number.") Now I'm trying to dislodge ELO from my head. Developing...
posted by Anon. 11:29 AM
The most unoriginal sin
Friends who know me know that I eagerly await each new John Hiatt release, even if Hiatt's record-selling capability has diminished severely since his Bring the Family/Drive South heyday. Friends who know me really well know that even though I love Hiatt, I'm not afraid to take a critical eye to him. In fact, as I've argued here before, Hiatt's inconsistency rivals that of Kansas City Royals pitcher Bret Saberhagen during his height.
Oh, really? Yeah, really. Hiatt goes from his excellent Walk On record to release Little Head, perhaps his worst record of his sober, BTF-and-after years. Then, a few years later, he releases Crossing Muddy Waters, an excellent compilation of mostly acoustic tunes. Then, two years ago, he releases the lackluster Tiki Bar is Open.
Given that pattern, it stands to reason that his new release, Beneath This Gruff Exterior (released on New West Records... JH has gone from Capitol to Vanguard to a label I haven't even heard of pretty quickly) would be pretty good. A critic friend mailed an advance copy to me, it arrived Saturday, and I've given it a couple of listens. Me likey. You can like it, too, but not until early May, when it'll be available at your local spinshop.
The album isn't just recorded with Hiatt's off-and-on backing band, the Goners, but it's even credited to Hiatt and the Goners. This means that among other things the album features Sonny Landreth's gorgeous slide guitar. A Hiatt album, though, isn't a Hiatt album unless JH delivers the songs. So far, I like the songs, though they do tend a little toward the pat hearth-and-home imagery that hampered Stolen Moments. "Circle Back," written about his driving his daughter to college, though, is quite nice, and Hiatt finally gets around to recording one of my favorite of his songs, "The Most Unoriginal Sin," which was recorded by Willie Nelson way back for his Across the Borderline album.
So far, not an overwhelming listen, but the lyrics are definitely there. I'll keep you posted for further developments.
posted by Anon. 8:40 AM
Come on baby
Hank Ballard, the songwriter and original singer of "The Twist," has died.
posted by Anon. 7:08 AM