Recommended CDs

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

War, the End of the World, and Women on Bob Dylan's Mind in Strasbourg...

War and apocalypse (and, er, women!) were very much on Bob's mind in Strasbourg tonight, it seems... Maybe he knows it was Hitler's birthday yesterday. Or perhaps he was inspired by being in a city that has been fought over by France and Germany more than once. One of the Nazis' first acts on taking the city in 1940 was to raze to the ground Strasbourg's synagogue (pictured), one of the largest in Europe, the Jewish community in Alsace being one of the oldest on that continent. The city was heavily bombed by the allies in 1944.

Let's go through the setlist...

1. Cat's In The Well
2. Masters Of War
3. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
4. Lonesome Day Blues
5. Under The Red Sky
6. Rollin' And Tumblin'
7. Beyond The Horizon
8. John Brown
9. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
10. This Wheel's On Fire
11. Highway 61 Revisited

12. Just Like A Woman
13. Thunder On The Mountain
14. Like A Rolling Stone


15. All Along The Watchtower
16. Spirit On The Water
17. Blowin' In The Wind

1. Cat's in the Well -- dogs are going to war.
2. Masters of War.
3. [No direct mention of war, but reindeer armies and seasick sailors, an orphan with a gun, and "the dead" feature]
4. Well, my pa he died and left me, my brother got killed in the war
5.[Again, no direct mention of war, but this sinister nursery rhyme is every bit as much about the betrayal of innocence as John Brown; note also that after Baby Blue and a Blues, we now have a red sky!]
6. [No direct mention of war, but "sooner or later you too shall burn "and "early doom" and "long dead souls" hardly lift the mood!]
7. [Some light relief at last, though the song is a tad ambiguous]
8. When John Brown went off to war
9. Are this nasty pair supposed to be Bob's comment on gay marriage?
10. Another sinister song...
11. ...tryin' to create a next world war
12. Just Like A Woman -- No war connection, but as Horace says, cunnus taeterrima belli causa, which I won't translate in deference to any ladies who might be visiting my blog, but you can google it...
13. I need a real good woman to do just what I say...
14. How does it feel? The third "woman" song ends with her downfall. Bob's not only in a belligerent, doom-mongering mood, he's feeling pretty misogynistic too.
15. The end of the world, portents of which were seen in 1 and maybe 10.
16. Quite placid, apart from the "I killed a man" line
17. Too many people have died... This might be the audience's feeling after this setlist!

All in all, one of the most doom-laden concerts Bob's given for a while. Thanks to Bill Pagel for the set list.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Correction: New Dylan Album Is Down in the Groove Revisited!

A Columbia spokesman has now confirmed that nine out of the ten songs on Together Through Life were co-written with Robert Hunter.

The liner notes will read “All music by Bob Dylan except ‘My Wife’s Home Town’ (music by Bob Dylan and Willie Dixon) - All lyrics by Bob Dylan with Robert Hunter except ‘This Dream Of You’ which is lyrics and music by Bob Dylan.”

If you remember, Bob's main reason for going into the studio was to record a song for a forthcoming movie. He seems to have enjoyed the experience enough to have wanted to make a complete album. Or maybe he just wanted to cash in on his recent commercial success.

Quite clearly, he didn't have much other material in the tank, hence the "collaboration." What would be interesting to know is: whether this is a real collaboration, or whether Bob just raided the Robert Hunter notebooks for unused lyrics (presumably rejected as second-rate or unfinished by Hunter himself), as he did with Silvio and the unspeakable Ugliest Girl in the World on the near-disastrous Down in the Groove(1987)* (*liking a couple of songs does not change my view of that album as a total failure as an album).

The sneaky point is that Hunter can write a reasonable pastiche of second-rate Bob (Silvio is like an inferior Up to Me), so that many people have difficulty in distinguishing between the two.

Robert Hunter is of course an accomplished lyricist in his own right, who should not be judged on rejected offshoots of his pen mined for the use of a lyricist whose own muse has deserted him. A genuine collaboration between Dylan and Hunter (i.e. one in which they actually sat down together to cook up a song or songs) could, in fact, be a very interesting affair. Alas, my head tells me that Together Through Life will consist of rehashed cast-off lyrics, no doubt with equally "borrowed" and derivative music (Otis Rush has already been identified as the source of the music for "Beyond Here Lies Nothing", while the great Willie Dixon, the self-styled "poet of the blues" and the most significant blues writer of the 20th century, is actually honoured with a co-writing credit for the music of one song).

Please note, that the title of this blog entry is somewhat tongue in cheek, and of course, I may turn out to be pleasantly surprised by Together Through Life, collaboration or no.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

New Dylan Tracks Are 'Knocked Out Loaded'

Well, it may be unfair to assume that Bob was tight ("loaded") when he recorded these new tracks, but they certainly sound like he cooked them up and knocked them out in the studio without much thought or deliberation. Beyond Here Lies Nothing might as well be entitled "Here Lies Nothing," and for all its (highly derivative) musical charm, I Feel A Change Coming On isn't even as interesting lyrically as the slightly underrated Under Your Spell from one of Bob's least successful albums. The refrain is quite catchy, but most of the rest of the lyrics are trite. Also, I'm a bit fed up with Bob telling us who he's listening to or reading all the time. This is a lazy way of filling in a couple of lines. Still, if that's what he likes, here's a suggestion for his next album:

I'm listening to Britney Spears
I almost forgot the taste of fears

The second line is a near quotation from Macbeth (V.v) , which gives you the impression that something clever is being said, a bit like "I'm listening to Billy Joe Shaver and reading James Joyce/Some people say I've got the blood of the land in my voice," but you see how easy it is? I could write dozens of couplets like this, and I'm sure you could too, but it's a cheap trick.

Also, the refrain seems a bit exploitative, tapping into the expectations generated by Obama's "change we can believe in" slogan, while refraining from commenting on those expectations. Again the comparison is with a Knocked Out Loaded song, one of Dylan's very worse, the execrable Got My Mind Made Up:

Well I'm going off to Libya
There's guy I gotta see
He's been living there three years now
In an oil refinery

Lines so bad, and at the same time, so deliberately evocative of an interest he has no intention of satisfying, and therefore exploitative, that I have always taken the easy way out and blamed poor Tom Petty for them!

Musically, I Feel A Change Comin' On is somewhat reminiscent of Handy Dandy, a much better song.

For the benefit of anyone who has problems with streaming audio files, I include below mp3s of these two pre-release songs. If you do download them, please delete them if you don't like them or if you do not buy Together Through Life when it's released.

Also, if you have time and inclination, please click on some of the Google links!

Beyond Here Lies Nothing (pre-release from, 192 kb/s)

I Feel A Change Comin' On (mp3, 192 kb/s captured via soundcard from streaming mp3)