Showing posts from April, 2017

Essential Modern Dylan Part Four

A candle has burned down to the end as the clock nears midnight. A cat meows, as a lawyer restlessly sleeps on the couch in his living room with a baseball game on television. The sound is turned down low. This is part four of the essential modern-era Bob Dylan songs. . .

. . . Sorry, that was a little tacky. I was riffing off the usual introduction to Bob Dylan's XM radio show, "Theme Time Radio Hour". You can check out the show here. You'll get to hear the songs that have shaped Bob's career and American music, all organized around a theme like "money", "cats", or "rain".

On that note, here is the rundown of the last installment of the essential modern-era Dylan. You can find part one here, part two over here, and part three somewhere around here. These songs are off Tempest, Bob's latest album of original songs.

Part 4: 2010-Present:
Early Roman Kings:
Here, Bob lays down his dynamic view of the powerful figures that have shape…

Essential Cat Power Songs

I discussed Cat Power (Chan Marshall) a bit in my post a few days ago, which you can read by clicking here. Eventually, I will review all of these songs, but here is my list of the "Essential Cat Power" songs. Much like my Dylan list, they are the songs that best represent her career, presented in a logical order.

Essential Cat Power:
Still in Love
Talking People
Nude as the News
Metal Heart
I Can't Get No (Satisfaction)
I Don't Blame You
He War
Speak for Me
Love and Communication
The Greatest
Silver Stallion Ramblin' Woman I Believe in You
Haiku Ten
Cherokee Ruin

"If you're looking for something easy you might as well give it up"
-Chan Marshall
Just for fun, here is the short (1:22) song "Haiku Ten", which is a simple rendition of a famous poem over music made by Sigmatropic (never heard of 'em). Chan's voice is perfect in this one. You'll wish the song went on forever:

Hear Mike Cooley Part Two: "Ghost to Most"

Every time I feel like I'm on the verge of figuring out what Mike Cooley's excellent song, "Ghost to Most" means, it slips out of my fingers again. The mysterious, wisecracking Cooley is indeed the escape artist here, as he sings about human identity (I guess), attempts to squash it (maybe), how the search for the truth underneath that may be more obvious than we think (possibly), and that we should probably figure all this out before we turn into skeletons (sorta).

The song starts with a delicious 4 chord guitar sequence for Cooley, who's playing the electric here. Shortly after we're introduced to these 4 chords, a lead guitar kicks in that is downright lovely, as it serves to float and propel the song along the escalator of time. From there, the tapestry is laid for Cooley to paint over, as his ever witty lyrics and dynamic, steady singing take over. It's a downright great tune-listen below:

Ghost to Most Lyrics:

Guess I'll never grow a side-burn

Modern Era Dylan: Playlist Part 3

Bob Dylan moved on through the later 2000's and into the Obama era with a broken voice, a continuous drive to capture the American spirit of music, and a pile of loaded songs sitting on his desk ready to go. Two excellent albums were released in the years 2006-2008: Modern Times and Together Through Life.

2006's Modern Times caps off Bob's modern day trilogy of "comeback albums" (along with Time out of Mind and Love and Theft). In many ways, it is a tribute to early country and blues music as Bob continues  in his quest to discover truth and humor in American song.

Together Through Life, meanwhile, is a rusty, dusty, glass shattering shotgun-western-desert set of accordion and guitar grooves that'llwill leave you both laughing and interested to hear more.

2006-2009: "Thunder on the Mountain": Much like in "Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee", Bob and the band are here to play straightforward blues, name drop, and get the party started. 

Talkin' Cat Power

Cat Power's, the name in which singer-songwriter Chan Marshall performs under, has a few different "eras" that define her musical journey. . .

1: I'd categorize Dear Sir, What Would the Community Think?Myra Lee, and Moon Pix (1995-1998)as albums in which Marshall channeled that mellow electric guitar spider-web feeling into her music. In many of these songs, there's a detectable folk guitar rhythm underneath, punctuated by drums, sharp lyricism, and a lead guitar that takes a melodic, spacey, and clean direction. "Talking People", a song that chronicles Marshall's thoughts about achievement, social status, and higher education, provides an excellent example of the electric-spider web sound. Listen as Marshall weaves her guitar around a slick drum beat that kicks in around the 25 second mark:

2:  Marshall moved into different territory with 2003's You are Free. If, sonically, albums like What Would the Community Think? and Moon Pix were serious…

A few notes on "God Knows" by Bob Dylan

God Knows, one of Bob Dylan's best songs in the modern era, is featured on 2008's "Tell Tale Signs", a collection of unreleased songs and alternative versions cut by Bob from 1989 to the (basically) present (the song is also on 1990's Under a Red Sky, but the Tell Tale Signs version is much better).  I made the decision to include this song on my list of the best of Bob Dylan songs in the modern era. If you'd like, you can review that list here and here.
In my initial "blurb", I wrote that God Knows "details the variances of feelings on earth from the perspective of  an eternal and unchanging sun". True enough, maybe, but I began thinking more about the phrase "God Knows". 
FIRST:Oftentimes, the phrase "God Knows" is meant as a verbal prelude to a statement regarding desperate need. "God Knows" I need a job. "God Knows" I need a change of scenery. And so on. In fact, there's even a song called &quo…

Dolly Parton and History

Recently, I read an article about an interesting new class being offered at the University of Tenessee. The course is called "Dolly's America", and explores Appalachia, America, music and culture. Well, sign me up. It makes sense to me that a history class should be looking through the lens of Dolly Parton, the great Tennessee born signer-songwriter. In this way, history is viewed from the lens of the "underdog", the poor, the rural, and the outcast. Well, maybe not always, but far too often history is told through the lens of coastal academia. I appreciate the varied perspective this class seems to offer.

Click here to read the article about the new class being offered at the University of TN. 

Hear Mike Cooley-

In the Drive by Truckers universe, Patterson Hood is the sun and hills. That would make Mike Cooley the shadows and the moon.
Cooley writes character sketches, wields a keen sense of observation and intelligence, and possesses some wicked country guitar skills in his back pocket.
Yes, I'd like to discuss part two of the essential Drive By Truckers. I've already featured 7 songs from frontman Patterson Hood. Now it's Cooley's turn. First song? "First Air of Autumn".

"First Air of Autumn" hits a melancholy fall day right on the head, featuring a sharp and rhythmic acoustic guitar, shuffling drums, and Cooley's muttering country vocals. He'll surprise you, as he sings like a man who has hidden talent and is coyly playing his cards. I almost image him as an uncle who one day picks up a guitar and sings a song that no one thought he was capable of.
This song is pure emotion and nature, as Cooley uses his observations of the countryside to paint a…

Modern Era Bob Playlist Part 2

For part one of  the best "recent" Bob Dylan songs, see here.

Part 2:

Things Have Changed Here, the band gets locked into a tight groove as Bob is backed down into a corner. It's clear he's down for the count but he's not going out fighting. He's seen it all and is above the fray. For more about this astounding tune, click here.
Love Sick Come here to hear. . .Love that haunts on a mysterious and howling Halloween. A voice crying in the wind. A search for escape, complete with keys that fall like raindrops and a slow reggae inspired guitar beat. . .all these disjointed dreams come together on this classic tune from Bob. 
Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum Bob plays the blues old-school here. It sounds like him and the band are on the bill at a county fair somewhere far away. The crowd is ready to party, and Bob is the eager bard ready to satiate their taste for mystery and fun. 
Mississippi Absolutely timeless song from Bob Dylan that reads like true spiri…

The Anatomy of a Song: David Bazan's "Both Hands"

A song is a living organism. It can be manipulated and changed to fit different circumstances. Words can be tinkered with. Chords, melodies, and feelings can change, approaching the same subject from a different dynamic. In this way, art does reflect life. Of course, Bob Dylan is a master of this trade (with his own songs and I guess Sinatra). Cat Power participates in this transformative process when she turns the Rolling Stones Satisfaction from a celebratory jaunt into a haunting back road.

At first glance, I thought that traveling songwriter David Bazan was taking some of his acoustic songs and trying to turn them into something else, too. While I wouldn't identify that as his core strength as an artist, (that's songwriting) his two most recent albums, Blanco and Care feature Dave turning old just-me-and-guitar tunes into simple synth-based jams. Bazan has become the tinkerer, taking the tools out of his toolbox and laying them on the table. These songs are one guy, one so…

Notes of Post 1990 Dylan Playlist, Part 1

Please visit the last post for more on Bob's career from 1990 onward. Part 1 of the playlist below:

1990-97: What was it You Wanted?
Dark, brooding, and boxed into a corner, Bob questions the every move of his ex lover over a murky harmonica and minor key shuffle. Almost sounds like it could've been a Neil Young song from On the Beach.

Everything is Broken One of Bob's "list" songs, as he neatly captures the fallen world in a few minutes over a bubbly guitar that seems to enlarge and disappear with frequency. This song is basically a long list written in pen on a restaurant napkin. 
Not Dark Yet
A beautiful, shimmering tune straight from the lakes of Minnesota. For more on this song, see here.
Standing in the Doorway
A romantic ballad documenting that forlorn feeling that can come up on a humid night in the city. For more about this song (kinda), see here: Bob Dylan-Standing in the Doorway and Dreaming of You
Dreaming of You
A close cousin to Standing in the Doorway, a…

Heart in the Highlands: Best of Bob Dylan 1989-Present

In 1997's Time out of Mind, Bob Dylan escaped death and emerged from the dust, laying down profound songs of life and mortality. With Time out of Mind, Bob busted through his disjointed and lost material of the 1980s and once again became the wordsmith and performer whose could elevate the everyday. Well, at least that's how the popular narrative goes.

I've always been a fan of Bob's work in the 1980's, so I don't discount gems like "Jokerman", "Sweetheart Like You", "Tight Connection to My Heart", "Brownsville Girl", "What was it You Wanted?", "Most of the Time". . . the list goes on. According to the evidence, Bob didn't need to emerge from anything but a track record of great songs. Still, 1990's and forward Bob constitutes a distinct Dylan era. His voice got hoarse, but remained just as expressive. His song writing has elevated his status as a modern Walt Whitman with a performers bent. An…

Cover Song of the Day: Gillian Welch sings "Black Star"

Gillian Welch covering "Black Star" by Radiohead.

Don't have much time to write today, but this song is delivered in typical Gillian Welch style: she sings directly to the listener in her melodic, ageless voice. . .she holds down the rhythm guitar while Dave Rawlings explores the universe with his always brilliant lead. Acoustics all around, but the sound is somehow big. Listen below!


Two Songs for a Spring Day

Two songs for spring, that capture that fleeting moment before it gets way too hot. The dog days of August have their own tunes.

"My Doorbell" by the White Stripes celebrates endings and beginnings, stirs a little madness in the air that comes with spring, and ponders future love over a melodic bangin' piano, bass, and simple drums.

In the second song, rapper Oddisee offers his spiritual and moral take on the ins and outs of love. He comes at the listener from multiple dimensions over an almost church sounding groove of swirling keys that offer the type of hype money can't buy. 

"Dreamin' of You": Friday Bob Dylan

"Dreaming of You" is a fantastic song off of Tell Tale Signs, a 2008 release of bootlegs, throwaways, and alternate versions of songs from 1997-2006. This particular tune is basically an alternate version of "Standing in the Doorway", which was released on 1997's Time out of Mind.

At it's best, the Bootleg series (which Tell Tale Signs is a part of) helps peel the onion and discover Bob's creative process, and it certainly does that here.

Stand "Dreaming' of You" and "Standing in the Doorway" next to each other and they'd be two sides of a coin, the altering dynamics of the same feeling, the wholeness of emotion regarding love lost. . .the same play in a different setting.

"Dreaming of You" is a dusty, searching tune, with hard hitting drums, anxious keys, and mournful but fighting vocals. "Standing in the Doorway" echos the same theme lyrically, and in fact even used many of the same exact lyrics. Howeve…

What explains Dunkin' Donuts?

Dunkin’ Donuts owns Connecticut, and New England for that matter. But what explains the dominance of Dunks over Starbucks, and even independent coffee shops?

To find the answer, I think you have to look at the origin story of each company. Assuming that people tend to attach themselves to larger narratives, brand loyalties in CT start to make more sense. In short, I think Dunkin’ represents a certain cultural element that New Englanders feel comfortable identifying with.

Recent picture of New Haven, CT: home to 10 Dunks locations.

Starbucks: Cultural Identifiers Starbucks appeals to a sort of post-hippie capitalist/left coast individualist spirit. After all, it is a Seattle institution, the place that monetized and sanitized fringe art movements, grunge rock, and coffee. The Pacific Northwest was founded by New England Yankees, so the culture carries an inherited sense of Yankee habits and customs, with much emphasis being placed on education, hard work, and using government to create a…

Things Change: Cat Power and "Satisfaction"

The opening riff to the Rolling Stones 1965 classic "Satisfaction" sounds like guitarist Keith Richards is trying to ignite the world in flames. After Richards lit that match, the band followed in, as Mick Jagger drones on about traveling, lack of relationships, and the fallacy of advertising. The song carries with it a certain swagger despite Mick admitting he's "on a losing streak" towards the end of the song, although admittedly that sounds more like a pickup than anything else.

"Satisfaction" is certainly an energizing tune that serves as kind of prelude to the next two decades of British rock. However, it's not this song that interests me as much as it's cover version, because 35 years later a Georgia singer-songwriter took "Satisfaction" and turned it on it's head. Impressively, the song was emptied of it's contents and laid emotionally bare without changing one line.

Cat Power (Chan Marshall) has one of the most unique…

Baggage: Essential DBT # 6 (Hood)

"Baggage", the last song of DBT's most recent release American Band, is Patterson Hood's tribute to the late Robin Williams. Per usual, Hood is able to use an event, character, or person as a highway to open up the land and explore additional themes. Here, Hood relates William's tragic suicide to his own struggles with depression. A stark electric guitar riff opens the song and seems to almost stand there as a monument in the desert. It's a powerfully sad riff, and is eventually accompanied by Cooley's desert flare of a lead guitar. The band fills in with a slight key change during the chorus.

Hood starts the song by singing "I was listening to the radio/ When they said that you were gone/ Already feeling more than a little down/ Mood swings run rampant/ On both sides of my family/ Like an albatross I carry around". Again, Hood is able to weave together diverging narratives to paint a masterpiece. Great song, indeed. Here it sung here over that …

Essential Bob Dylan: Introducing Round 2, Summarizing Round 1

If Sony record executives asked me to put together a list of 21 essential Bob Dylan songs, the list I'd provide them would be the one below. These songs, taken in chronological order, offer the best representation of Bob Dylan's career. I've reviewed each one of these songs, which you'll be able to find by clicking on the "Bob Dylan"label on the bottom of this post.

However, a quick scan of my essential list reveals some gaping holes: where is Hurricane?Like a Rolling Stone? How about the show mule ride through the mountains by way of Boston Highlands? Like Mohammed Ali probably said at some point, it's time for round 2!

1. One too Many Mornings                                          
2. Girl From the North Country
3. It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
4. Just Like Tom Thumb Blues
5. Visions of Johanna
6. I Threw it All Away
7. If Not For You
8. Simple Twist of Fate
9. Abandoned Love
10. Slow Train
11. What Can I do for You?
12. Caribbean Wind

Bob Dylan: All About Tour Names

The late 1980s. . . before Bob Dylan was on his "Never Ending Tour". . .he came up with some awesome tour names: Alone and Together, Temple in Flames and True Confessions. 

In the 1970's, it was the famous Rolling Thunder tour in New England. . .

Since the late 80s, he's been on the Never Ending Tour (not an official name):

Essential DBT # 5: Sands of Iwo Jima (Hood)

Patterson Hood's long obsession with history is showcased in the excellent tune "Sands of Iwo Jima". In many ways, the song "Three Great Alabama Icons" is kin to this song as Hood skillfully weaves together familial history with that of the United States. This knitting is done purposefully by Hood, and serves as a prelude to a larger point he makes about war, the media, and patriotism.

Here, Hood's acoustic guitar is accompanied by a sensible, melodic touch from the band, complete with swirling keys, tasteful lead guitar licks, and steady bass n' drums. Hood's awkward falsetto explores the story of his grandfather, George A, and his commitment to both family and his misfortune of getting drafted into World War II. In a subtle way, "Sands of Iwo Jima" is an anti-war song, shaking a fist at Hollywood for presenting images of war and false glory by the likes of John Wayne, sanitizing the savagery for the American public post-fact.  As Hood st…