Tuesday, December 15, 2009

RVOW: Desire by Bob Dylan (1975)

RVOW is back and this week I'm spinning Desire, Bob Dylan's second straight Album of the Year (1975's Blood on The Tracks and Desire in '76) according to Britain's New Musical Express Magazine. Blood on The Tracks is universally heralded as Dylan's best work of the decade; complete with "Tangled Up in Blue," "Shelter from the Storm," and "Simple Twist of Fate," but Desire did top the charts in the U.S. for 5 weeks and is a record that I can never go too long without revisiting. One main reason is the band. Howie Wyeth on drums and Scarlet Rivera on "gypsy" violin are instrumental standouts in this traveling ensemble and show known as "The Rolling Thunder Revue," (see The Bootleg Series Vol. 5). More widely praised, but then less known, is the beautiful face and marvelous voice from Gram Parsons recordings and tours before his tragic death a few years prior, Ms. Emmylou Harris. The duets can't really hold up to Parsons and Harris' country balladry, but Emmylou and Dylan do light up the entire record (Harris is only absent from "Isis," and "Sara," the passionate autobiographical "letter" to Dylan's then recently divorced ex and mother of Jacob Dylan of Wallflowers fame). The best duets are undoubtedly "Joey," the story of the then recently deceased New York gangster "Crazy" Joe Gallo, and "Oh, Sister," which concludes side one. The end of side one also holds the most beautiful and integral violin performances in both the afore mentioned ballad "Oh, Sister," and the arabesque "One More Cup of Coffee." The true power and skill of the band are best represented on "Black Diamond Bay," and the opening epic; "Hurricane," a strophic poem told in "cinematic" storytelling style about the wrongful arrest and conviction of boxer Ruben "Hurricane" Carter. Carter was eventually released on appeal some twenty years later, but was never exonerated for the murder of two men and one woman in Patterson New Jersey in 1966. The song was the biggest hit of the record peaking at 33 on the Billboard charts and remains the most well-known track on the record. It even appeared in "Dazed and Confused," and that scene has since been referenced on shows like "The Family Guy." The last collaborator on this record that absolutely must be mentioned and who could easily be referenced as the most important is co-writer to every track save "Sara," Mr. Jacques Levy. Dylan and Levy have contributed brilliant A-B-A-B rhyme schemed couplets on tracks like "Isis," and the Tex-Mex "Romance in Durango," which stand up next to any lyrics in the entire Dylan catalogue. This record has it all for Dylan fans and together with the live recordings represented on the 1975 edition of the Bootleg series mentioned above represents the height of the 70's and one of the highest peaks of Dylan's career as performer and songwriter. It feels good to have this now certified double-platinum album on vinyl and be able to let it cruise around the needle the way it was originally intended to. Go dig.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Book Review: Complicated Shadows "The Life and Music of Elvis Costello"

I stumbled across this gem a few months ago at a store called "Mr. Music Head," in Hollywood. The store sells rock-and-roll photography, no, brilliant rock-and-roll photography. Stage shots, candid shots, concert posters, all from the past and present "big hitters," including Dylan, Cream, the Dead, Foo Fighters, Ben Harper, Deathcab, Aerosmith.....and on it goes. They also represent photographers and therefore can show you countless pics online or in their archives that can be printed and framed for a price. In the front of the store on some tables were books of photography and some just on music. The one that rally caught my eye was a big hard-bound book on Tom Waits (they also had a beautiful photo of the eclectic Waits sitting in front of an old pickup truck in the country- possibly that Ol' 55????- but that mama was like $35 so I decided to pick up the biography on Elvis ($7) since I was listening to both of these brilliant songwriters damn near exclusively at this point. The Costello biography is magnificent. It is a scholarly text that could easily be used in a college setting complete with endnotes and a detailed index. Graeme Thomson has personally interviewed many of the characters surrounding Costello and has not held anything back. I find it also works well as an extremely descriptive discography for the prolific musician. The chapters are labeled by the years of Costello's life and one can easily look up albums in this manner or by the index (which has album and song titles) to find out who played on individual tracks and records and what style Costello was going for- which we know varied greatly-  and etc., down the line. The book is especially good in the beginning and starts to drag a bit in the third act, but only because it continues to be significantly precise and detailed and as a reader I started to "push on,"compared to the slow weeks I spent on the first third, reading, absorbing, and stopping to buy the albums and compare my thoughts to the author's. Still, Thomson tells all and one can't really complain about his thoroughness, especially when the narrative reads much like a novel despite its similarities to a college text. Four and a half stars at least and certainly well-worth the sale price of seven dollars. Thanks Mr. Music Head.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Documentary Review: One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur

Kerouac Films has put out a new documentary on Jack Kerouac's novel Big Sur. If you haven't read this one yet then I suggest you go pick either the DVD/CD combo, the book, or both. Big Sur is considered by friend's and contemporaries of Kerouac's- like Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg- to be his last major gem before passing away from liver poisoning just several years after. Big Sur is the first novel post "On the Road," and Kerouac was beyond famous at the time of writing it. In fact, he was burnt out on all of the young thrill seekers who wanted to buy him drinks and belt their own stories of mischief and mayhem into his ears. It was a little ridiculous for the Jack man at this point. Hipsters were stalking his home in New York and the papers were writing about him every day gossip column style and hailing him as "King of the beatniks." So... becoming overwhelmed with depression and not being able to escape it or even pursue his life's passion, Jack decides to come out west and hide out in Ferlinghetti's cabin in Big Sur for some much needed isolation and attempt to get back to writing. Well, it doesn't work out quite the way he planned due mainly to his own lust for alcohol and San Francisco nights and the book turns dark and evil. The prose is untouchable, as usual, flowing and rhythmic with start-stops and rants. Meanwhile, the documentary includes "Kerouac," as narrator of excerpts and interviews with musicians, actors, literary scholars, friends, and contemporaries of Jack's including Tom Waits, Robert Hunter (Musician and Grateful Dead lyricist), Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and many more. The soundtrack is composed and performed by Benjamin Gibbard of Postal Service and Death Cab for Cutie and Jay Farrar of Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo. The songs are folk orchestrations of Kerouac's rhythmic and poetic prose brought to life again in a new light upon the voices of the seemingly odd-couple pairing. The documentary can be purchased at music stores or online and comes as DVD/CD or just soundtrack.