BOB DYLAN - TEMPEST (Columbia) -There really is no need for another glowing (&/or slobbering) review of Uncle Bob’s latest is there?!?? As usual, a new full-fledged album of new songs from Mr. Dylan justifiably garnered plentyof coverage from every conceivable corner of our media-saturated world. Plus, being one of those Dylan fanatics who would probably pay good money just to see and listen to him read the phone book (or labels of canned goods – ahem!), I’m coming at it with pretty much a biased view with probably any and all objectivity completely thrown out the window!?!! That said, I must say that my own personal reaction to this epic feeling album is that it may be his best since the astounding TIME OUT OF MIND from 1997 (certainly my favorite of all his late career albums which launched his amazing recent run of albums up to and including his CHRISTMAS IN THE HEART album)! I do have a theory why this is the case. By the time we are nearing the end of this album we get some solid linear story-songs, particularly “Tin Angel” and “Tempest," which for the most part have been absent on his current spate of albums. As great, potent and downright fun the songs are on these albums – especially their music arrangements sounded out by his current excellent road band – you get the feeling (or at least I do) that the verses for them almost act as separate entities and any of them could be switched around, dropped from the song or even new ones added without effecting the overall structure and theme of the song as a whole. So to hear Dylan back in full frontal storytelling mode is a joy to behold! And then he tops it all with a loving tribute to John Lennon – a cut where I can’t shake the deep emotional pull every time I listen to it. That said and done, I must add that actually my favorite track is “Pay In Blood,” which just blew me away on how – despite the dark overtones of its lyrics – is such a wonderful sounding pop song. I can’t recall the last time Bob came up with such a fun melody!!!
HA!!! I laughed out loud – a combo guffaw of amusement, shock and pure joy – right off the bat when I first listened to this album, and I continue to chuckle happily with further replays! Neil always amazes fans and critics alike on how and where his musical career trek twists and turns and I’m expecting no one has ever anticipated to hear such well-known (grade school-singing) song nuggets like “Oh Susannah” (the opening track), “Clementine” and “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain (titled as “Jesus’ Chariot” here) taken through the Crazy Horse funky-grunge wringer!?!!?? Devoting an entire album to classic ancient American folk songs by musicians of all types is of course a long-standing tradition. When Dylan did it back in ’92 and ’93 with GOOD AS I BEEN TO YOU and WORLD GONE WRONG respectively we got a deep and dark tour through obscurities with a haunting and mournful feel. With Bruce Springsteen’s WE SHALL OVERCOME: THE SEEGER SESSIONS ('06) we plummeted into a full-blown bombastic blast of traditional songs that we are more familiar with, taken to anthem-like heights that Bruce can do in his sleep. So now here we get good ol’ Neil doing his own wonky take on even more familiar songs with even a few scratch-the-head songs thrown in for good measure: the Silhouette’s “Get A Job” and “God Save The Queen”??!? Approach this album in the right frame of mind and I guarantee you a good time – HA indeed (in a good way)!!!
I can’t claim to be a huge follower or very super knowledgeable of Fleetwood Mac but they certainly have been weaving in & out of my life and musical interests. So I was really intrigued by this tribute release especially since 1) it includes some of my current favorite artists – The New Pornographers, St. Vincent, Karen Elson… & 2) the very interesting song selection which includes not only the expected Nicks (who dominates) and Buckingham picks but several by Peter Green and even one by Bob Welch! It’s an uneven affair, typical of most tribute albums, but some of the highlights include a straightforward, poignant “Landslide” by Antony, a bouncing, honky-tonk take of “Rhiannon” by Best Coast, a take-no-prisoners version of “Gold Dust Woman” by Karen Elson and an electronic infused “Gypsy” constructed by Gardens & Villa.
RY COODER - ELECTION SPECIAL (Nonesuch) - I remember thinking back when Ry Cooder was pumping out a slew of soundtracks (mainly for Walter Hill films) if he was ever going to get back to doing solo albums similar to the ones early in his career (even though I was a huge fan of his movies scores!). Well finally in 2005 he did with CHAVEZ RAVINE followed by 2007’s MY NAME IS BUDDY and 2009’s I, FLATHEAD (which formed a trilogy on some of LA’s cultural history). With the later two, he began to be pretty much the sole songwriter on them, which strongly continued onto 2011’s PULL UP SOME DUST AND SIT DOWN which foreshadowed the overt political theme of his latest release. Now the deal with ELECTION SPECIAL is how it musically sounds and feels like one of Cooder’s best, harkening back to some of his earlier critically-acclaimed output. There’s one (possible) ‘slight’ problem – if you happen to be conservative/hardcore Republican without an open mind (or no sense of humor) you might have to take a wide berth around this (!?). Cooder makes no apologies where his political POV is and you probably can get the gist of it just by looking at some of the titles on the CD jacket: “Mutt Romney Blues”, “The Wall Street Part Of Town”, “Guantanamo” and “Going To Tampa”!!! If anything one should salute Cooder for throwing topical protest music up front and center whether you agree with him or not, and again, let me state that this is some of Cooder’s best music of late – a great and lethal mix of blues, folk and roots rock. The highlight for me is the track entitled “Brother Is Gone” – a haunting tale concerning deals with the devil with some mighty emotional-wrenching mandolin playing by Cooder. And I love how he wraps up the album with the strutting anthem rocking blues with “Take Your Hands Off It”: “…Get your greasy hands off my Bill of Rights / It was written right you can’t make it wrong.” Sing it Ry…and don’t be shy!!!