Random Bitz – A Shadow of His Former Self?

If the young snotty Bob Dylan of the Sixties was told that his 73 year old self would be  crooning songs from Tin Pan Alley popularized by Frank Sinatra he probably would have laughed sarcastically and assumed the speaker was out of his head on something illegal.

And yet there was the onetime anti-Establishment icon warbling through ten Sinatra classics from what is often referred to as The Great American Songbook on an album (yes, I still call it that) called Shadows in the Night.

random-dylan

I listened to the tracks on Spotify with horrid fascination. Yes, there was the familiar craggy voice he has adopted in recent years singing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Some Enchanted Evening” and Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do” with gritty purpose. To hear it  is to believe it.

 Just as improbably the album was one of his rare hits, hitting the Top Ten of the U.S. charts and topping the British  charts for the first time since The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963.

The tunes they are a-changin’ …..  again.

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Snow Again I Didn’t Get Your Drift

Tribute albums can range from the obvious (the recently released The Art of McCartney featuring Alice Cooper singing “Eleanor Rigby”, “Let It Be” by Chrissie Hynde and 40 others penned by the former Beatles /Wings composer/performer) to the obscure (1994’s Brace Yourself:A Tribute to Otis Blackwell with Debbie Harry warbling “Don’t Be Cruel”, Kris Kristofferson performing “All Shook Up” and 13 other songs by various artists either written or co-written by the rock’n’roll pioneer.)

There are plenty of tribute albums on the market but  who actually buys them?

I was wondering about this while listening to Chimes of Freedom:The Songs of Bob Dylan.

Tribute -album cover

A friend lent me a copy of the CD  that he received from another friend and so on. I couldn’t help but notice the original copy of the CD I was handed was bootlegged (rather appropriate in a subversive way since Dylan is one of the most bootlegged artists in the biz. Unfortunately, money from sales of the tribute album has been earmarked for Amnesty International.)

No matter how sincere or well-intentioned, the cover versions on tribute albums simply serve to remind me how much better the originals are.

I remember seeing Bob Dylan at a long ago concert. As soon as the aging troubadour hit the chorus of “Like a Rolling Stone” the audience, unprompted, began to sing along. The strains of the epic composition swept through the arena as if the song had achieved a life of its own. Even Dylan seemed amazed at its power as he stepped away from the mike. And if even Bob Dylan cannot match the power of his original vocals what chance do Seal, Jeff Beck and a band of fabled L.A. session musicians have on Chimes of Freedom?

I shuddered for a different reason when I heard Bad Religion’s amped-up version of “The Times They Are A Changin'” (although in this case the L.A. punk veterans have a point. As many boomers can attest, to their bemusement and/or horror, the times are changing – again. And what better way to announce the fact than to speak to members of the younger generation in what may be their own musical language.)

"The Times They Are A Changin' ... Again!
“The Times They Are A Changin’ … Again!

Therein lies the rub when it comes to critical approval. If the song covered is true to the original version, reviewers will say the artist covering the song lacks creative imagination. And if the act covering a well-worn original changes the arrangement radically critics may moan that a masterpiece has been defaced and has forever destroyed their memory of that particular song. 

The set shows that one of the most surreal of songwriters is also a traditionalist. The meaning of some of the songs may be ambiguous but the lyrics always rhyme, sometimes internally. (“Your long time curse hurts/ but what’s worse/Is this pain in here/ can’t stay in here/ain’t it clear” from 1966’s “Just Like a Woman”) . These days audiences do not demand that lyrics rhyme. The result is some memorable free form verse. It is also an excuse for a lot of poetic-sounding drivel.

The release also shows the astounding depth and range of Dylan’s back catalogue (over 70 songs on this set – all originals).

Still, despite the honest admiration displayed on these tracks, there are only a handful I would play more than once – Bettye LaVette’s gritty, soulful reworking of “Most of the Time” and Thea Gilmore’s haunting, heartfelt version of “I’ll Remember You” stand out from the pack. (Ms. Gilmore is obviously a tie dyed-in-the–wool Dylan fan. She covered every track on Dylan’s 1967 masterwork on an album simply entitled John Wesley Harding and performed at a concert honoring Dylan’s 70th birthday.)

Tribute - tracklist

As UK’s Independent on Sunday put it “dazzling songs, dismally sung.”

Bob Dylan: The Tunes They Keep A-Changin’

 

There’s a reason the press calls it The Never Ending Tour (although rumor has it that Bob Dylan hates that description of his performing schedule.)

In July 2012 alone he will performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in addition to dates in Germany, France, Spain and Italy. 

In May he toured Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico.

At the end of this month he will be in England.

Obviously, after all these years, he isn’t doing it for the money. It’s just a part of who he is.

And yet people still complain they went to a Dylan concert and he changed all the songs around so they couldn’t understand the words and it was nothing like their cherished memories.

 Hey, wake up and smell the incense. Dylan has always followed his own rules. Let’s face it, if he was going to sing all of his hits just like the record, he would have retired from boredom years ago.

If you don’t know that, then you don’t know your Dylan history and perhaps you shouldn’t have been at the concert in the first place.

Having crowds criticizing him because they don’t like the way he is tinkering around with his sound is nothing new. They were booing back in the Sixties when he first pioneered his own distinctive brand of electrified folk. (Watch the excellent Martin Scorsese DVD documentary No Direction Home for a sense of déjà vu.)

 In a May 2009 Rolling Stone cover story “Bob Dylan’s America“  the crotchety sixtysomething legend tells interviewer Douglas Brinkley: “My band plays a different kind of music than anybody else plays. We play distinctive rhythms that no other band can play. There are so many of my songs that have been rearranged at this point that I’ve lost track of them myself. We do keep the structures intact to some degree. But the dynamics of the song itself might change from one given night to the other … today, yesterday and probably tomorrow I don`t think you`ll hear what I do ever again … you wouldn`t recognize them unless you`d come through certain experiences. “

Uh, okay, I`m glad we cleared that up.

FYI: Hank Williams “Lost” Song Lyrics Rediscovered

Another Hank Williams Tribute Album? Yessiree, Bob!

According to Los Angeles Times entertainment reporter Randy Lewis, HANK WILLIAMS (Sr.) scribbled song lyrics in notebooks, napkins, the backs of envelopes and whatever else was handy.

After he died (in the back of a Cadillac at the age of 29 on New Year’s Day 1953),  the unpublished material — 66 songs among four notebooks — was kept in a fireproof vault at Acuff-Rose Publications in Nashville and later transferred to Sony ATV Music when the corp bought Acuff-Rose in 2002,

“BOB DYLAN was given the first whack at doing 12 songs for a CD,” says Mary Martin, one of the producers of a 2001 all-star tribute album Hank Williams: Timeless “and the estate was more than happy it should be a single artist doing that.”

Instead, as Lewis writes, “Dylan opted for a multi-artist lineup and project organizers began reaching out to singers who were also songwriters who had demonstrated a strong affinity for Williams and his music. The primary mission: to come up with music that fit the lyrics. Participants were allowed to add words, verses or bridges where Hank had left only fragments. The restriction was they couldn’t alter the essential character of what Williams had jotted down.”

The list of artists participating includes Bob Dylan, Jakob Dylan, Norah Jones, Merle Haggard, Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless, Holly Williams (Hank Jr.’s daughter/ Hank Sr.’s granddaughter), Lucinda Williams (no relation to Hank) and Jack White, among others.

For more info on the project ( The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams was released on CD and vinyl Oct. 4th) click on the link below:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-ca-hank-williams-notebooks-20111002,0,2463973.story

The Tunes They Are A Changin’


It always baffles me when people complain that they went to a BOB DYLAN concert and he changed all the tunes around so they couldn’t understand the words and it was nothing like their cherished memories of the songs.
Hey, wake up and smell the incense. It’s Bob Dylan. He has always followed his own rules. It is part of who he is.

And, let’s face it, if he was going to sing all of his hits just like the record, he would have retired from boredom years ago.
If you don’t know that, then you don’t know your Dylan history and perhaps you shouldn’t have been at the concert in the first place.
Having crowds criticizing him because they don’t like the way he is tinkering around with his sound is nothing new.

They were booing back in the Sixties when he first pioneered his own distinctive brand of electrified folk.

(Watch the excellent Martin Scorsese DVD documentary NO DIRECTION HOME for a sense of déjà vu.)

In the May 2009 ROLLING STONE cover story “`Bob Dylan’s America“ the crotchety sixtysomething legend tells interviewer Douglas Brinkley …
“My band plays a different kind of music than anybody else plays. We play distinctive rhythms that no other band can play. There are so many of my songs that have been rearranged at this point that I’ve lost track of them myself. We do keep the structures intact to some degree. But the dynamics of the song itself might change from one given night to the other … today, yesterday and probably tomorrow I don`t think you`ll hear what I do ever again … you wouldn`t recognize them unless you`d come through certain experiences. “

Uh, okay, I`m glad we cleared that up.

THE TUNES THEY ARE A CHANGIN`….

It always baffles me when people complain that they went to a BOB DYLAN concert and he changed all of his classic compositions around so they couldn`t understand the words and it was nothing like their cherished memories of the songs.

Hey, wake up and smell the incense. It`s Bob Dylan. He has always followed his own rules. It is part of who he is. And, let`s face it, if he was going to sing all of his hits just like the record, he would have retired years ago.

If you don`t know that, then you don`t know your Dylan history and perhaps you shouldn`t be at the concert in the first place.

Having crowds criticizing him because they don`t like what he has done to their favourite songs is nothing new. They were booing him back in the 60s when he went electric. (Check out the excellent Martin Scorsese documentary NO DIRECTION HOME on DVD for a sense of déjà vu.)

In a May 2009 ROLLING STONE cover story Bob Dylan`s America the crochety sixtysomething legend tells interviewer Douglas Brinkley

“My band plays a different kind of music than anybody else plays. We play distinctive rhythms that no other band can play. There are so many of my songs that have been rearranged at this point that I`ve lost track of them myself. We do keep the structures intact to some degree. But the dynamics of the song itself might change from one given night to the other … today, yesterday and probably tomorrow I don`t think you`ll hear what I do ever again … you wouldn`t recognize them unless you`d come through certain experiences. “